Hockey players meet Hope House youths at Bethlehem YMCA
Doing what you love at a professional level is a great reward, but it takes hard work, perseverance and sacrifice.
That’s the message four members of the Albany Devils hockey team delivered to teens from the Hope House in Albany at the Bethlehem YMCA on Wednesday, Feb. 9. They also took the time to play a few rounds of floor hockey with the 20 youths, who come from all over the state to the Hope House to enter an immersive program aimed at combating alcohol and drug abuse.
For Hope House residents aged 13 to 18, hearing about how the players not much older than themselves had made it to the top of their game was a valuable learning experience, said Hope House Recreational Therapist Kason O’Neil.
They said everything in the message we’re trying to teach and preach to our kids, he said. `That’s what we’re really pushing for the kids today.`
For many upper echelon athletes, success comes with payoffs. Most of the Devils players said they left home at 15 to play hockey and make a name for themselves. That involved missing a lot of traditional youth experiences like going to prom and hanging out with friends, but it also proved to them that perseverance can pay off big.
`You have to trust in yourself. You have to work hard and bury your head,` said Dan Kelly, who plays defense for the Devils. `If you put your mind to it and work hard, you can do anything.`
The players also spoke of their own personal experiences with substance abuse. Several said they’ve had teammates who were talented but couldn’t advance to the next level because of such issues.
Right wing Patrick Davis (who was incidentally traded later that day to the San Jose Sharks) said his own childhood was less than idyllic, but he found an outlet in the sport he loves.
`I always had hockey, that’s why I never did drugs,` he said. `I just focused 100 percent and tried to forget everything else.`
Devils players Andy Thomas and Chris Murray also spoke to the Hope House teens, and answered enthusiastic questions ranging from fights on the ice to diet and exercise.
The Devils use the Bethlehem YMCA’s skating rink for practice time. That’s been a beneficial partnership for the Y, said branch Executive Director Derek Martin, and he’s happy to see it expanding.
`I think its’ a great opportunity for the Devils and the Y to collaborate,` he said. `They’ve been looking at ways to really get their name out in the community. It’s also a great way for the Y to develop our social responsibility.`
In March, the YMCA is planning to take kids in its Circle of Champs program for sick children to an Albany Devils game, and the team will recognize the group on the ice.
Teens at the Hope House generally undergo a six- to nine-month program in the 20-bed facility. Staff there try to instill a need for healthy choices that extends beyond substance abuse to healthy eating, exercise and education. The teens also travel to schools to speak to other at-risk youths.