Hockey is a big game in Western New York, and this season its smallest players are getting a chance to enjoy its thrills in a new way.
Beginning at just 4 years old, boys and girls take to the ice to pass, skate and score as part of the Webster Youth Hockey League.
Members of its Red, White and Blue division are seeing even more action, thanks to a new USA Hockey mandate called the cross-ice system.
It divides the rink into two halves.
Todd Van Dyne, President of the Webster Youth Hockey League said "Instead of participating on a full sheet of ice, we want more kids on a smaller sheet of ice, which means more touches for the players, closer activity, more bumping and grinding, a better set and sense of skill development."
At first some players didn't like the change, because it was different from what they saw their idols doing at the high school level and on television.
Kerry Fikes' son Cameron was part of that group.
At first he was dissapointed, but soon realized cross-ice gave him more time to play.
Fikes said "Watching the difference from the beginning of the season to now we're only half way through. Where he wouldn't touch the puck at the beginning of the season now he's constantly touching the puck and scoring at least one goal every game."
Eventually everyone involved warmed up to the idea.
Van Dyne added "We've noticed bigger smiles on the kids, less likelyhood to get out of the game, to stay with it longer, coming off the ice drenched in sweat and for kids this age level thats pretty amazing to see."
More activity means a higher fitness level.
Van Dyne says that better prepares them for the promotion to full ice, making every player better at their game down the road and improving the game as a whole.
He added "If we look at how things are done on a professional level and you watch the game its played in a very small area a quarter of the ice, less than half a sheet of the ice very active in close interaction with puck, players and lots of quick movements, quick decision making...It's all about quality of life and being healthy is a huge thing and thats why its so important."
For more on USA Hockey's Youth programs - click here.
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