By Donald Wittkowski
Temperatures hovered in the low 80s Thursday, but the children at Sea Isle City’s Dealy Park recreation complex seemed to have winter on their minds.
Clad in the orange and black colors of the Philadelphia Flyers, they were practicing their hockey moves under the direction of legendary former Flyer Bob “Hound” Kelly.
“Good job. That’s perfect,” Kelly shouted in encouragement.
The scene was Sea Isle’s “Hooked on Hockey” clinic, a popular annual event that city officials estimate started about 15 years ago.
“Families book their summer vacations here based on this event. Even in dreadfully hot weather, they’re here,” explained Cheryl Castor, the assistant superintendent of the city’s Division of Recreation, which organizes the clinic with the Flyers.
Castor added that the Flyers name and Kelly’s presence are two powerful draws.
The Bisson family, of Quebec City, Canada, stumbled upon the clinic Thursday while taking their vacation in Sea Isle.
Philippe Bisson, 13, who plays in a Canadian junior hockey league, practiced his moves under the watchful eyes of his parents and sister.
“It was fun,” Philippe said. “I liked learning how to shoot.”
Philippe’s mother and father, Nancy and Jean-Francois Bisson, recalled how their son started playing hockey when he was just 4 years old.
“He was very nervous when he started,” Jean-Francois Bisson said. “He was nervous that he would fall on the ice.”
As an incentive for him to continue playing, Bisson offered to buy his son a Montreal Canadiens jersey. But it turns out that Philippe’s favorite team is the Los Angeles Kings. He also likes the Flyers.
There certainly were a lot of Flyers fans at the clinic. Many of the children wore orange and black Flyers T-shirts embossed with the names of their favorite players on the back.
Dealy Field’s hockey rink doesn’t have ice, so the children play on a covered surface. They use balls instead of hockey pucks
The one-hour clinic teaches children between the ages of 6 and 12 the basic fundamentals of hockey, including stick handling, shooting and passing.
Kelly, who played left wing as a member of the Flyers’ famous “Broad Street Bullies” championship team of the 1970s, stressed that the children are under no pressure.
“They’re basically here to have fun first,” he said.
The 65-year-old Kelly, who retired in 1982, said he has been coming to Sea Isle since 1973 to promote hockey. He now serves as a Flyers ambassador, visiting schools and hockey clinics to teach children the importance of teamwork.
In the 1970s, there were only a dozen teams in the National Hockey League, Kelly recalled. Now, there are 30.
The growth of ice hockey in the United States has created more opportunities for young players, including the possibility of winning college scholarships to further their education, Kelly noted.
“They should use their hockey skills to get their education and go from there,” he said.