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Starting Out In Hockey

Hockey is a wonderful sport for kids and their families. Kids who play hockey are able to make new friends and stay active throughout the long winter months, while playing the world’s fastest, most exciting sport. If you are the parent of a youngster and are wondering whether hockey is right for your family, we have provided some information below to help you with your decision. The hockey community is very friendly and welcoming, and the ECHO Stars would love to have you join us. If you have any questions at all about how to get started or what is involved, feel free to contact Mark McGrath

Youth Hockey Programs consist of three stages:

1) Learn to Play Hockey Program:

This program is for children 4 -12 years old. Older youngsters are accepted into the program with staff approval. The primary goal is to teach the participants to skate and play hockey, which may lead to their continuing in the mini-mite or travel programs. Regardless of their future plans, this is where they begin to develop a love for the game of hockey. The Learn to Play program runs from early September through late April in four (4) 8-week sessions. The program meets on Saturday mornings (Times and Dates TBA) Knowing how to skate is not a prerequisite. Our instructors will teach them how, preparing them to join those already skating and learning the fundamentals of the game. All skaters are able to join the Learn to Play Hockey group at any time during the season and their costs will be prorated. The earlier in the season the better, in that the more time on ice leads to more repetition and skill enhancement.  The key ingredient to ECHO’s Learn to Play is the element of having fun. When youngsters are having fun on and off the ice, their love of the game is strengthened.

2) Mite Limited Travel (formerly Mini-Mite) Program:

The Mite Limited Travel (formerly Mini-Mite) Program is a skill development, transitional program in preparation for Mite/Squirt Travel. It is geared toward children 4 to 8 years old. The Mite Ltd Travel typically skate on Saturday and Sunday mornings from early September until late April. There are four (4), 8-week sessions held. The skaters must have successfully completed a Learn to Play program prior to enrolling. The emphasis of this program is on skill development. Coaches are all USA Hockey certified and are equipped to meet the needs of each individual’s skill level. The emphasis is on learning some of the game specifics required to play hockey; more importantly, however, the program assists each player in developing their on-ice skills as they relate to skating, passing and shooting. Informal scrimmages are incorporated into the practices, and occasionally cross-ice games are played with neighboring youth hockey programs. The skaters may also attend one or two cross-ice mini-mite hockey festivals during the season. Attending these festivals may incur a slight additional cost. Enrollment into the program can occur at any time and costs will be pro-rated dependent upon date of arrival.

3) Travel Program:

The travel program offers skill development and games against teams from other youth hockey programs in
Connecticut. Children are placed on a team with others at a similar skill level on the basis of tryouts held in the spring. Travel teams typically skate two practices during the week and two games (home and away) from early September through mid March; travel teams typically play approximately 30 games Home and Away. Regular season home games are scheduled on the same weekend day at the same time for the entire season. The other weekend day is for traveling to play other teams in the Connecticut area. The travel time for these away games is usually no more than an hour. Teams also may play in tournaments during the season (for example the Newport Christmas tournament, an ECHO Stars tradition), as well as an end of the year State Tournament. The commitment by a family in a travel program is usually higher simply due to the team’s ultimate goal of a state tournament qualification and the amount of travel involved.

The travel program is broken up into the following groups (birth dates reflect the upcoming 2018-2019 season):

a) Mite - 7 to 8 years old (20010-2011 birth years)
b) Squirt - 9 to 10 years old (2008-2009 birth years)
c) Peewee - 11 to 12 years old (2006-2007 birth years)
d) Bantam - 13 to 14 years old (2004-2005 birth years)

How much does it cost?
Hockey has a reputation as a sport that costs a lot of money to play. However, the cost of getting started is very reasonable. Starter equipment packages are available for a very modest cost (less than $100 for a complete set of equipment for a youngster), and we have some “loaner” packages available on a first-come, first-served basis. The registration fees for the Learn to Play and Mini-mite programs are very reasonable, and the sessions are divided into eight-week blocks to minimize the cost of trying out the sport. Once your child moves on to travel hockey, the total cost does go up a bit, but remember that your player will be on the ice for practice or games four times a week for about five months, so the per-hour cost ends up being lower than for many other youth sports.
Will I have to be at the rink at 5 AM?
If you believe TV commercials, you might think all hockey practices take place at 5 AM. In reality, the vast majority of practices and games are either in the evening on weekdays (between 6 and 9 PM, with earlier practices for the younger kids), and at reasonable hours on the weekends. The instructional program, the gateway to our Mini-mite and travel programs, this year is scheduled for Saturday/Sunday mornings (Dates and Times TBA)
When should my child start?
While the Learn to Play Hockey program is open to children of all ages, there are advantages to starting your child early. Four- and five-year-olds take to skating very easily, and will have plenty of time to practice their skating and hockey skills before moving on to travel hockey.
Are girls welcome?
Yes! Many girls enjoy youth hockey, and the number is increasing every year. Almost all girls start out in a youth hockey organization like ECHO, with boys and girls learning and playing together. As they get older, some girls choose to play for a girls-only team, but virtually all female hockey players got their start playing with the boys at co-ed organizations.
Is hockey dangerous?
After watching pro hockey games, you may worry that your child might get hurt playing the sport. While no youth sport is completely free of dangers, serious injuries are very rare in youth hockey. All players wear protective equipment including a helmet whenever they are on the ice, and physical contact (checking) is not allowed until the Peewee level. Coaches and referees take safety very seriously. Actually, compared to sports played on grass such as soccer and football, the incidence of serious injuries in hockey is quite low.
What equipment will we need?
Your child will need a standard set of equipment, which includes a helmet, neck guard, elbow and shoulder pads, shin guards, a cup, a stick, and skates. You can get advice and information on equipment by contacting, and we have a limited number of "loaner" starter kits (minus skates and stick) available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information on Loaner Starter Kits please contact either Mark McGrath. If you want to purchase your child’s equipment we will be glad to provide you with a listing of area sporting goods stores and full-service hockey pro shops that will be able to help you.
How should I choose a hockey organization?
There are over 40 youth hockey organizations throughout Connecticut, and once a family starts out in one organization they tend to stay with the same organization over the years. If your child sticks with hockey, you and your family will spend a lot of time with other families from the organization. So choosing the right organization for your family can be an important decision. We recommend talking to members of the board of different organizations, and even visiting a few practices or games, to get a sense of what the organization is like. At ECHO we are committed to developing the skills and character of young players while having fun at the same time. We hope you will find us to be welcoming and friendly, and a great place to get your kids involved in a sport they can enjoy for life.