ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Ducks aren’t quite back from the Olympic break yet, but that didn’t stop the team from filling the Honda Center nearly to the top Tuesday afternoon with elementary school-aged kids from all over Southern California.
The team hosted 14,500 students in the 14th annual First Flight Field Trip, with the entire organization and team catering to kids from as far away as the High Desert.
The day was split in two, with a "playground" segment and "classroom" portion, and is considered the marquee event in the Ducks’ S.C.O.R.E Program, an educational program developed by the organization in 2005 in an effort to encourage healthy, active lifestyles throughout the community. It was a unique atmosphere and a unique practice, but overall an opportunity for the team to help grow the sport and help some kids along the way.
"That was so cool," said defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "I think that we have a lot of very good people in this room. A lot of role models, a lot of very well-spoken guys from North America and Europe and I think that the school children of Orange County could do far worse for role models than what they saw on the ice today."
The kids involved in the program, which is recognized by the California State Assembly, have been working toward the event all year with lessons designed around this year’s theme, "Cool Like Ice." Kent French, Wild Wing and several players led demonstrations on the ice and explained how the ice at the Honda Center is created.
"I think it’s a great outing," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "When I was in grade school, any time you had a chance to go to a field trip, and a cool one to a hockey arena, it was a lot of fun."
Check out photos from the 2014 First Flight Field Trip VIEW GALLERY
However, the event served as a way to get the team on the ice in front of a crowd for the first time since the break. It was designed to be an entertaining practice for the kids – a 2-on-2 neutral zone scrimmage and a longest shot contest were part of the practice – but Boudreau didn’t go easy on the team.
"We had nine days off and right now, we’re getting punished for it," Lovejoy said. "We’re working hard to get back in game shape and having 15,000 fans there to motivate you was very special."
The entire team will be back by Wednesday and the full squad will practice on Thursday. Anxious to get back in action, the team was happy to do so in a way that allowed them to give back to the community.
"It was loud, real loud – you couldn’t hear yourself think," Boudreau said. "Today was a nice, light day, and a lot of fun to practice in front of the kids. It was a great morning. Every time you can have that kind of atmosphere for practice, it makes it a lot easier to go through it."