Having been part of SCORE Boston Hockey for half of the organization’s 22 years, Wendell Taylor has witnessed the ups and downs of the program.
Right now, SCORE Boston is on an upswing. Taylor, the organization’s president, is striving to keep it that way.
The program is attracting underprivileged inner-city youth who are interested in giving hockey a try. Add in educational components and the organization is making a difference in one of the biggest hockey markets in the United States.
“The program has taken off. The past couple of years in particular, we’ve made some pretty big strides,” said John Resnick, SCORE Boston vice president of hockey operations. “I think a lot of it has to do with USA Hockey and the Hockey is for Everyone grant and program. That along with the Boston Bruins Foundation, run by [Executive Director] Bob Sweeney and his crew, has pretty much been the sole financial backing of the program.”
SCORE (Sportsmanship, Character, Opportunity, Respect and Education) Boston has 94 kids participating — 60 boys and 34 girls — from all walks of life.
The biggest obstacle at this point for the organization is getting enough ice time for the players. The kids are only able to skate once per week, on Saturdays, from October to April at the Max Ulin Ice Rink in Milton.
SCORE Boston fields four teams: one group each for 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U.
“A lot of kids, even for a house team in Boston, they’re just so far above us it’s ridiculous,” Taylor said. “But teams come, their kids are fantastic. They try to play down to our level whenever possible, they help our kids around the ice. Our kids, they don’t care about the number of goals scored on them or winning or losing.”
SCORE Boston, which is completely run by volunteers, has 24 coaches teaching the kids. Some of the coaches include top-notch college players at Boston College and Brown University. Taylor is amazed by the talented folks who want to dedicate their time to helping mold young hockey players.
But it’s challenging for the organization to attract new skaters every year. A typical player jumping into the program is around 10 years old and doesn’t have a skating background. Some of the kids will experience hockey for the first time playing floor hockey at school and get the urge to want to test out getting on the ice, noted Taylor.
“Every year we have to go out there into the community and into the boys and girls clubs and into some of the schools and some of those neighborhoods to try and convince these kids that this is an incredible opportunity to give hockey a try,” Resnick said. “You get geared up head to toe, you’re on the ice at least once a week, we’ve got a classroom component. It’s just a really great opportunity, but it’s a continual battle to find the right kids.”
Once a player first tries the sport, the retention rate is high. Of the first-year players coming out, Taylor figures about half return for a second season. It’s all about getting over the hump of learning how to skate after possibly falling on the ice.
“Typically, we have good athletes, so they’re playing basketball, football, and they want to try hockey,” Taylor said. “So, I have a lot of kids that have amazing hands, unbelievably great athletes. But the tough item is the skating. So, coming in at 10 and trying to get them up and standing and making them realize that practice makes perfect is tough.”
The on-ice goal is simple for SCORE Boston: Give the kids a chance to try a different sport than they’re used to playing.
“Try something new to the extent that you take to it and you want to be a part of it,” Taylor said. “I think it’s a growth opportunity. It’s easy to go and do something you know, it’s hard to get out of your comfort zone. They realize trying really hard and failing and trying again is an important aspect to grow.”
The program also adds an educational component for the players. After their one-hour weekly skate, the kids have one hour of classroom time. Coaches address several types of message ranging from bullying in class to nutrition to rules of hockey.
The educational emphasis focuses on three main aspects.
“No. 1, self-esteem, building self-esteem as a kid of color or a kid of need in society,” Taylor said. “No. 2, making sure that the kids feel like they have the resources for academic achievements, so if the kids need extra help, we’ll provide it for them. And finally, making sure that they recognize what they receive, they have to give back. So, making sure that every kid is involved in some type of charitable activity to give back for the things they’ve received in the program.”
Once the players put the hockey and educational pieces together, hopefully they can move on to compete at the high school level while continuing to do well as a student. Over the last few years, several kids in the program have gotten the opportunity to play hockey at storied Boston-area schools such as Milton Academy. Once in school, a couple of the players actually dropped out of hockey to concentrate on their academics.
“The goal is not to have a kid playing in high school or playing in college, the goal is to give the kids access to something different,” Taylor said. “If hockey’s a conduit to doing that, it’s a win.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
With one final blare of the goal horn, it was over. Wiping away more than three decades of IIHF World Championship frustration, Team USA had toppled Russia.
This wasn’t the universally known Miracle on Ice of 1980, but it was a watershed moment, sending a powerful message about USA Hockey on the international stage. What the 1996 United States Men’s National Team accomplished in a 4-3 overtime defeat of Russia in Vienna, Austria, was a step toward more consistent success at the World Championship.
“It was pretty dramatic,” said 1996 team member Tom Chorske. “It was a shorthanded goal by Brian Rolston, so that was pretty incredible. The Russian team was always good, and that was a time just after the heyday of the Red Army teams…so it was a big deal to beat the Russians.”
The win cemented a bronze medal for Team USA – its first medal-finish in the tournament since 1962. In total, the boys in red, white and blue have taken home 10 medals at the World Championship, with three of those being claimed since the 1996 team won bronze.
“After we got that medal, I think guys started to realize there was something to play for,” said Joe Sacco, a forward on the 1996 team and assistant coach of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team that competed in Minsk, Belarus. “I think the players don’t understand how important (the World Championship) is to other countries. It’s almost like their Stanley Cup over there. It’s a great tournament and it was a lot of fun. To bring home a medal in the process, the first in 34 years, you leave a mark when do something like that.”
According to Sacco, it wasn’t a star-studded roster; rather it was just a bunch of working-class guys extending their hockey seasons, but that’s what made it work.
“Anytime you are able to get a team to come together quickly as a group, it’s going to help your chances,” said Sacco, who fed Rolston for the eventual game-winner. “It was a lot of blue collared-type attitudes, a lot of good guys and we were all on the same page pretty quickly.”
With Ron Wilson at the helm, Team USA worked its way to the bronze-medal game with preliminary wins over Austria, Germany and Slovakia. A quarterfinal win over Sweden and semifinal loss to the eventual gold medal-winning Czech Republic set up the third-place contest.
Rolston’s goal at 4:48 of overtime sealed it for the Americans. The medal win was 34 years in the making, and it put USA Hockey back on track. That impact wasn’t lost on the players.
“To be on this team was really something,” said Chorske. “It proved that USA Hockey was ascending to be one of the top teams in the world. It was a step forward in our success internationally for a long time to come.”
USA Hockey has been a stepping-stone in the careers of Chorske and Sacco, too.
“I’ve been very fortunate. USA Hockey has been a part of my life since I was 16,” said Sacco, now an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres. “USA Hockey has been a part of my development as a player and as a coach. It’s been a really good relationship for both sides.”
Chorske is currently working in the business sector but also serves as a hockey broadcast analyst for Fox Sports North in Minnesota. He is forever grateful for the opportunity to represent his home country.
“USA Hockey is a national community that I’m proud to be a part of,” he said. “All of the friendships I’ve made over the years, with those teams, and getting to play alongside other American star hockey players was a lot of fun. Certainly medaling with two of those national teams (he was also a member of the 1986 U.S. National Junior Team that earned the first-ever IIHF World Junior Championship medal for Team USA), it’s a big part of what made up my hockey career.
“Behind winning the Stanley Cup, one of the most successful moments of my career was with that USA Hockey team at the World Championship.”
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