Young hockey players in Bemidji, Minnesota, recently had a chance to skate with two of their heroes and learn from them as well.
In late June, 250 kids joined three-time Stanley Cup champion Matt Cullen and Olympic gold medalist Gigi Marvin at the new Sanford POWER Center and hockey rink inside the Bemidji Community Arena.
“Hockey is big in Bemidji and our youth hockey program is just exploding,” said Brad Neis, executive director of operations at Sanford Bemidji. “So to have them come here and be with the kids on the ice all day long is huge. You can see the smiles on the kids’ faces and the parents are excited. When we opened this up for registration, it filled up extremely quickly. It’s really cool.”
While meeting their heroes and skating on the new sheet of ice, kids were also able to train inside the Sanford POWER Center, work on dry land training, and work on their skills on a synthetic sheet of ice as well.
“The fact is nowadays you have to be able to train on and off the ice,” Cullen said. “And so to have the facility and the ice sheets available along with a room to lift weights and work out and the room, a shoe box and stick handle, you know, you kind of give the kids every opportunity to succeed and you give the program a chance to develop and grow.
“So from my perspective, seeing that, I think it’s awesome. Bemidji’s a great hockey town and has been for a long time and now to have a facility like this, it’s awesome.”
Small-town kids, big-time goals
For Cullen and Marvin, who grew up in Moorhead and Warroad, Minnesota, respectively, being looked up to by kids comes with the territory. But they say events like this bring them back to their own childhoods.
“My grandpa, Cal Marvin, brought a lot of those teams to Warroad to play. And so I actually got to meet the U.S. women’s team before they went to the 2006 (Olympic) Games,” said Marvin. “So I got to meet Cammi Granato, Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell, I got to skate with them as well, and so it was kind of fun for me. I was only in ninth grade at the time.
“So I got to see on our home rink in Warroad, Minnesota, the best players in the world competing, and then flash forward, maybe six, four years, I’m playing with them. And so it was really special for me, and so I’m really grateful for the people in my community that brought excellent hockey players to my hometown so I could see when I was little. So this is really fun to be here for the little kids, knowing I experienced firsthand what they’re going to experience today.”
For many of these young athletes, the memories of Sanford POWER’s Hockey with the Pros clinic will last a lifetime. Just as important, however, is knowing they have a state-of-the-art training facility in their own hometown to use as they chase their own dreams.
“I enjoy being a part of this and I enjoy working with Sanford because their vision is the same. They want to provide these kids with every opportunity to be great,” said Cullen.
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