LEWISTON — Brothers Michael Ridley, 4, and Benjamin Ridley, 6, of Lisbon sat in a locker room for the first time Saturday.
In the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, in a city where the hockey tradition runs deep, they wore skates, leg pads, padded pants, gloves, helmets, jerseys, and smiles. They were playing hockey for the first time.
“I watch the Boston Bruins,” Benjamin said. He liked putting on the equipment, but, “I think the best part will be on the ice,” he said.
A few feet away, Peter Hinkley of Greene suited up his son, Rowan Hinkley, 4. Emily Swan, 10, of Turner, who has played pond hockey with her brother, had her skates laced and said she was excited.
Across the country, ice arenas held “Try Hockey for Free” clinics Saturday. Sponsored by USA Hockey, the clinics loaned youngsters equipment, gave out ice time and offered help from coaches to allow children to try the sport without a commitment.
Pat Lebel of Lewiston, whose grandson, Tyler Lebel, 4, was waiting to go on the ice, called the clinic a great idea. “It exposes them to hockey and lets them decide if they like it or not before their parents spend that money.”
Some 430 rinks in 47 states held “Try Hockey for Free” clinics, said Alex Clark of USA Hockey in Colorado. Nationwide, 10,000 children were expected to try hockey for the first time. “We're convinced that once they try the game, they will fall in love with it,” Clark said.
Twenty kids participated in the Lewiston clinic Saturday. “That's a great number," said Lewiston Area Youth Hockey League Secretary Jamie Bannister. "We try to have one coach for every two kids.”
LAYHL has about 375 players, 500 counting travel teams, said league President Andy Guerin. Playing a five-month season costs $415 for a teaching division (atoms and mini-mites) and $700 for a competitive team. Hockey starts in October and ends in March.
“Try Hockey for Free” was also held at Auburn's Ingersoll Arena on Saturday.
Auburn Youth Hockey registrar Lisa Bussiere said 20 youngsters participated.
“The kids on the ice were having a ball,” she said. “Not one of them wanted to come off until it was time.” After the clinic, five registered to play, Bussiere said.
Cheyenne True of Otisfield said she was happy to let her son, Blake, 4, try hockey for the first time.
“He loves watching it on TV," True said. "He loves playing at home with a little net on the hardwood floor. So I figured we may as well try it. If he likes it, we'll sign him up.”
Blake's hockey future looked promising.
“He's falling, getting back up, laughing and loving it,” True said, smiling like a hockey mom.