Friday, June 6, 2014

Blues and 14 Fund unveil 'Rink of Dreams'

Street hockey rink available for children at Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club

ST. LOUIS -- When he co-founded the Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club with the late Hubert "Dickey" Ballentine, 89-year-old Martin Mathews could only vision what could one day become fruition some day.

And as far as the contributions have come in the years since 1960, Mathews couldn't contain himself when he made the drive to North Kingshighway Blvd. last week.

"I drove up last Friday and it was the biggest (thrill) in my life to see all the Blues (staff) here put this rink up," Mathews said Wednesday during the unveiling of the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Rink of Dreams. "If you're in America, you can witness almost anything. Anything that you want to do can happen in America. 
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) and executive vice president Brett
Hull (right) unveil the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Rink of Dreams at the
Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club on Wednesday.

"When you have the Blues come to North St. Louis with the president and all the people putting up the rink for the kids here. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel great to be in America where if you do the right things, if you work hard, things will happen. ... This is a dream come true. We all dream that our children one day will have an opportunity in America to do what the constitution said."

Hockey in inner city St. Louis is alive and real. And with Blues Alumni (Bob Plager, Brett Hull, Kelly Chase and Bruce Affleck), defenseman Barret Jackman, owner Tom Stillman and Doug Wickenheiser's widow Dianne and twin daughters Rachel and Kaitlyn all on hand to witness the unveiling of the rink where a large throng of kids from the boys' and girls' club were already on hand taking full advantage of, it marks another feather in the cap to a city that continues to improve the growth of the sport in the area.

"We called it Rink of Dreams for obvious reasons ... you build it and they will come," Stillman said. "It's been here a couple days and it's full. It's a magnet. It's a fun game and when it's street hockey, all you have to do is pick up a stick and go at it. I think it will lead to a lot of good times and some appreciation of hockey here."

Plager, an original member of the Blues when the franchise received an expansion bid in 1967, was on hand and offering tips and pointers for kids willing to hit their feet on the ground running.

"This is the greatest what's going on and for me to be a part of it," Plager said. "The Blues were in here in 1967 and there was one rink here in town skating and that was at Winterland. To see what has happened, how far our hockey has come ... this is the hockey hotbed in the United States for the players and kids we have here. We've had 13 play in the National Hockey League in the last few years from St. Louis.

"We played street hockey just like this here. We only used tennis balls out there and we didn't have it enclosed. It was on the street. But this is the way you start and you play with the bigger kids. You get out there and it's a lot of fun. ... When I was with the New York Rangers, mister (Emile) Francis started hockey in New York down in Harlem and it was in the (1960's) and I was a part of that. It's great to see and these kids are going to have a lot of fun and we'll put them out here right now and it's great for kids."

Chase, color commentator for KMOX 1120-AM, said his street playing days in and around Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan revolved around gravel roads, sand and grass games. This opportunity for kids gives them the chance to get outside and away from all the indoor lifestyles that have engulfed every day living in today's world.

"It gives us as former players or as current players a perspective of how far we've come and how fortunate we are and how important these sort of things are to our game and what we're about as players," Chase said. "And I think for the kids, it opens their eyes to go, 'Holy smokes, this is a start for me. This is a place for me to get educated about the game and maybe have some fun with it.' I have three boys and I don't have any false expectations for them. It's hard to play in the NHL, it's a hard game. I tell them all the time don't play because I played, play because you love it. And they play now more than ever because they love it. I think when kids get integrated into it at a young age, it's hard not to love the game. 

"It's pretty amazing just watching them. They can get the activity part of it. I think a lot of what is important now, too, is to have kids outside and be active. With all the distractions with the internet and social media and telephones and the way everything is set up now, I think the kids need to have more of this kind of opportunity where you kick them out of the house and let them go out and play. It's pretty neat."

Jackman, whose son Cayden donned a goalie mask and didn't skip a beat when it came time to partake in game-like activities, is very familiar with the area and happy he'll get the opportunity to see kids with this opportunity. From his playing days in Trail and Fruitvale, British Columbia, the game has come a long way.

"I actually drive by this place every practice day going out to the Mills," Jackman said of the Mathews-Dickey complex. "I come up Kingshighway through North St. Louis and to see a rink like this with Mathews-Dickey and Tom Stillman and the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund, for them to come out and put something like this together and give these kids a place to learn about hockey and grow our sport and for them to have fun in the process is special.

"It's so many hours of street hockey in a small town having fun. You're making posts out of anything, whether it's the jacket you took off in the middle of winter so you can have a goal post or in the summer, you get the old ratty net with holes in it. It's fun. It's what you grew up doing and there was always a game in my neighborhood."
Kids of the Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club take part in a ceremonial
first shot with Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) and former Blues
great Brett Hull (right).

The Blues have kicked off the Mathews-Dickey street hockey program by running a two-week basic rules and skills camp, beginning with the inaugural scrimmage.  The rink, donated by the Blues 14 Fund and Clayco, was completed on May 30. 

Mathews-Dickey will host two five-week summer camps, running from now to July 3 and July 7 to Aug. 8, and street hockey will be among the activities.  Parents may enroll children ages 6-14 in one five-week session or for all 10 weeks at the low cost of approximately $8 per day by calling (314) 382-5952.

"If you want to be a hockey player, if you want to be a Brett Hull, you can be one," Mathews proclaimed to the kids on hand. "... We're not singing the Blues, we're going to dance to the Blues today."

"We want to be part of the community," Stillman said. "To me, this is really the gold standard for youth organizations in St. Louis. To be able to do this with Mr. Mathews and the organization, it just means a lot. We want to do our part in the community and we want to be part of things. This is that first step."

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