Hockey Haven program makes hockey accessible to New Haven families

Olivia Kettell, Newscast: Associate Producer

A nonprofit organization started by Quinnipiac University medical students is giving New Haven children the opportunity to learn and play hockey.

Aaron Marcel is Hockey Haven’s president and created the program alongside some of his classmates to make hockey more accessible to kids from all backgrounds. The program was created with the lack of diversity in hockey in mind, from the NHL down to local little leagues.

“The basis behind hockey haven is that hockey’s an extremely non-diverse sport, the NHL is 95% white, and that lack of diversity extends all the way down to youth hockey,” Marcel said. “For me growing up, I never had a player color on my team.”

The program, first launched in March, runs once a week for ten weeks and teaches local children the basics of the sport.

“We’re basically teaching kids the fundamentals of hockey, skating, stick handling, passing all that good stuff,” Marcel said. “And it’s basically for people that wouldn’t be able to otherwise play hockey, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, low income, minorities that don’t typically have access to the game.”

According to Marcel, this discrepancy could be attributed to the fact that hockey is an expensive commitment. Families will typically have to spend more than $1,000 just on equipment for their child.

Children participating in the Hockey Haven program created by Quinnipiac University students.

“The cost is just outrageous, so it is a sport that really only appeals to white people that are from affluent backgrounds,” Marcel said. “People are just trying to change that, so we’re just trying to contribute to that mission and what we hope to do is essentially become an integral part of New Haven and sports for inner-city kids.”

Marcel promoted the program through social media, which eventually led to the New York Rangers’ involvement last September.

“We’ve been building it with the New York Rangers’ help, they have other programs like this,” Marcel said. “We’ve been building it with them since September, that’s when we were founded as the 501 C-3 and kind of just taking it from there.”

Marcel said his inspiration for the program came from playing hockey growing up, which he says provided valuable experience and skills that could also be used off the ice.

“Hockey for me growing up was an instrumental part in the development of myself as a person… it taught me so much about core values and overcoming adversity, leadership, teamwork, all the things that can be translated into success, how to overcome failure,” Marcel said. “The relationships that you build in hockey are unlike any other thing I know.”

Hockey and the learning experiences that come with it are very important to Marcel and Hockey Haven is a chance for local children to have the same opportunity.

“I just want to give those opportunities to other kids through something that I love myself, especially for the kids that wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that otherwise,” Marcel said.

The program has already had a positive effect on the children who participate, and Marcel said they have even picked up hockey skills very quickly.

“Everybody, like all the kids and all the parents, are just so happy when they get to the rink, they all walk in with the biggest smiles on their faces,” Marcel said. “The first session or two, kids were nervous and scared and they were afraid to fall, and now they get out there and they’re flying around, they love it, it’s just so much fun to see.”

The parents of children participating in the Hockey Haven program appreciate the accessibility.

“The parents are just so grateful because they really really appreciate the fact that it’s free; when you tell them about the program their first question is always how much does it cost – and you tell them it’s free and their jaw drops,” Marcel said. “It’s like you’re giving an opportunity to these people to do something that they could never even dream of doing.”

A Hockey Haven player’s parent, Nicole Bradley, said that her son Christopher gained more confidence and excitement through Hockey Haven.

“It’s brought a side out of my son that I have never seen before as far as confidence, as far as his willingness to want to actually do things,” Bradley said. “Being that he’s delayed, his confidence through this program has drizzled down and affected his confidence everywhere else.”

Marcel hopes to expand the program in the future to eventually have a league for teams to play against each other. Additionally, he envisions implementing an education component to further the learning experience and even a mentorship program to pair participants with an older player.

“We really want to impact these kids both on and off the ice and become role models in their lives… not only on the ice but off the ice,” Marcel said. “We were hoping next fall, maybe when the new school year starts up and we’re gearing up to start our next installment of the learn to play program, to add an educational aspect to our program.”

These initiatives are expected to build the program’s community even further.

“We really want to reach as many people as we can; we have about 35 kids in our program right now and they’re really loving it,” Marcel said. “We see it as a possibility that we could keep growing, and just become a huge part of New Haven and really impact a lot of people.”