While hockey is one of the most popular sports in Alaska, it’s among the least accessible and affordable for kids to play. Getting the right gear and finding affordable camps can be a financial burden many parents either can’t afford or chose to avoid, opting to enroll their kids into other activities.
Last year the Bristol Bay Native Corp. entered a partnership with the NHL’s Seattle Kraken. A year later, the two organizations combined to organize a week of training for youth camp participants of the Anchorage Youth Hockey Academy. They also sponsored 19 kids ages 12 and under who may otherwise have not been able to afford to participate.
“Hockey has a financial barrier for sure,” Kraken player development coach Katelyn Parker said. “Being able to hurdle some of those obstacles together so we’re providing a space for those who maybe otherwise couldn’t afford to come to the camp and they get to have that same experience as those that can afford it.”
Last week, around 200 children, with a mix of boys and girls, participated in the first “Kraken Week” and the ones that were sponsored included nine boys who are either shareholders or descendants of shareholders from BBNC and 10 girls sponsored by the Kraken.
“It’s not only a camp to train and learn about the sport of hockey,” BBNC president and CEO Jason Metrokin said. “It’s a camp where kids see and interact with role models, people who focus on having healthy lifestyles and coaches who have great leadership skills.”
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The camp is six weeks in total, and the total cost for unsponsored kids is $330 a week.
“We’re just super lucky to have amazing partners and Bristol Bay Native Corporation being one of them and getting us up here to be involved in the Alaska hockey community,” Parker said. “We’re excited to be here just to spread the brand and spread the passion for Seattle Kraken hockey.”
Ten-year-old Mason Nevin is one of the campers being sponsored and part of the 12U group. He has been playing hockey since he was three years old and said he thoroughly enjoyed Kraken Week.
“It’s amazing for free,” Nevin said. “It’s been fun doing drills and skating and shooting.”
This is his second hockey camp. He plays center and left wing.
He says his favorite thing about hockey is “scoring goals and celebrating” and that the sport has allowed him to make a lot more friends.
In addition to Parker, the NHL expansion team sent several members of its player development coaching staff whose duties include structuring practice plans, curriculum and growing the game. The camp is focused on teaching the fundamentals of playing the game of hockey, such as balance, skating, puck-handling, shooting and passing.
“It’s about skill acquisition and finding ways to make it fun and keep moving,” Parker said. “If they’re sweating and smiling, we’re doing a really good job.”
David Kyu-Ho Min is a player development coach who grew up in the Seattle area but was born in Seoul, South Korea.
He played junior hockey in the NAHL and United States Premier Hockey League before transitioning into coaching and is glad to see more diversity in the sport.
“It’s been super cool to see the different walks of life,” Kyu-Ho Min said. “When I was growing up, I was the only Korean player in Washington.”
He believes teams and organizations need to be conscious and deliberate about growing the game in untapped markets.
“Instead of just saying you’re going to do it, walking the walk is very important,” Kyu-Ho Min said.
Parker started playing hockey when she was four years old and grew up in Bellingham, Washington, an hour and a half north of Seattle.
She played boys hockey growing up and in college at Division I Colgate University and coached college hockey for five years. Parker just finished her first year with the Kraken and is happy to see the female turnout and inclusion at the camp.
“Seeing ponytails and long hair out there is amazing,” Parker said. “Hockey is for everyone and the game is growing. It’s exciting to see the girls game grow because eventually we’re going to have more Olympians and college players.”
Since the start of the partnership, Metrokin says there has been an uptick in popularity and curiosity about the team and sport itself among their shareholders.
“A lot of Alaskans are already Seattle Seahawks fans and now we’re seeing that a lot of Alaskans, including our shareholders, are becoming Kraken fans,” Metrokin said.