Hockey players on the Kenai Peninsula got a little taste of the big time Thursday when University of Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer and Chicago Blackhawks alumni Phil Russell, Billy Gardner and Cliff Koroll shared some of their knowledge and experience at a clinic at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"More than anything, (participants) get to see some different faces," said Sauer, who has coached the Badgers for 19 seasons. "They see that hockey's a pretty normal sport -- people from college or the NHL do the same things as coaches here do, and we're here to help them enjoy hockey.
"It's a fun game to play, and they get to see that we still have fun playing the game and coaching."
The clinic was part of the BP Classic, an event organized by the company that combines friendly sports competition with community service. Volunteers fulfilled the community service portion of the event Wednesday by planting vegetables at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
The sports part comes easy for guys that have made a career out of being out on the ice.
"We go through withdrawals when we're not out there often enough," Russell said.
The Blackhawks Alumni Association was organized with the same goals in mind -- sportsmanship, community involvement and charitable fund raising -- and hockey clinics have been part of the BP Classic for several years.
"It's a good way to give back to the community," Koroll said. "We've done this thing with BP since '95. We always tie in hockey with it, and usually any place we go, we do a couple of clinics with the kids. That's where our grassroots are, and it's still fun."
About 50 players participated in the clinic, half of them in the morning session catered to skaters ages 7 to 11, and the other half in the afternoon session for skaters ages 12 to 16.
"The young kids are fun because you're going to teach them something, and there's lots of enthusiasm," Koroll said. "It's a little easier to run a clinic with the older kids. The older kids are better skaters and they have better skills."
Sauer said there might be a few prospects among the group he worked with during the morning session.
"A couple of the girls looked pretty good," Sauer said. "When get back to Wisconsin, I'll have to let the women's coach know that there's some players here in Alaska."
Sauer said he's enjoying the opportunity to see Alaska in the summer -- most of his trips to the state have been in the winter, when the Badgers visit the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play.
Sauer, Russell, Gardner and Koroll visited the North Slope, got in some golf and are as excited about getting some fishing in during their stay as the clinic's participants were about learning from college and NHL greats.
Even with all the excitement, the highlight of the trip is working with kids.
"Just a smile on their faces," is what Gardner said he hopes participants take away from the clinic. "You hope they learn a little bit, but you want them to have fun. If you're not having fun, you shouldn't be doing it. After we do this, you see them out here and they're excited. That's the bottom line."
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