The basketballs were still flying around the gymnasium as the goals were being set up at each end of the Ford PAL Recreation Center on Snyder Avenue.
A few loud whistles brought an end to the bouncing, and plastic sticks were handed out to dozens of wide-eyed local kids who were about to get their first lessons in the sport of ball hockey. Plastic spheres started whipping around the gym floor and screams of excitement started echoing off the walls.
It’s the same way Philadelphia Flyers forwards Owen Tippett and Morgan Frost experimented with the game while growing up in Ontario.
“It was big when I was a kid,” Tippett said with a smile. “I was always out in front of my house with a net and pucks and a ball and always out on the street playing.”
Tippett and Frost were on hand in South Philly introducing the basics of ball hockey to a group of kids ranging in ages 8-18. The event was in celebration of PAL Month, marking 76 years of “Cops Helping Kids.” A recent partnership allowed Tippett and Frost, along with Flyers Alumni member Bob “The Hound” Kelly, to interact with local kids and share the game they all played professionally. PAL, short for Police Athletic League, teamed up with the Flyers and Simon’s Heart Foundation to provide Philadelphia youth with an educational experience of hockey and the importance of heart health.
“In understanding the whole needs of a child, when we are trying to introduce, we also try to introduce the healthy component,” said Katie Owen, PAL Philadelphia’s Director of Development and Communications. “We’re trying to make sure the kids not only have fun, but that they get something educational out of it as well.”
At one end of the gym, children were able to learn how to perform CRP and how to work Automated External Defibrillator machines from experts at Simon’s Heart. At the other, they could learn from professionals like Frost, Tippett or Kelly.
“I was playing ball hockey until I was about 16 or 17,” said Frost, a former first-round draft pick who has become a regular on the team over the last two seasons. “I would still play outside of the (ice) hockey season. In the summer, I would play in a league. If you’re trying to learn the game, ball hockey is awesome. I think the hardest part for a lot of people to learn is obviously the skating. I think this is a more basic and easier way to learn the game and it’s a lot of fun.”
Kelly didn’t play ball hockey before he made his debut with the Flyers in 1970. But the member of the infamous two-time champion Broad Street Bullies knows a thing or two about teaching the sport from a grassroots level.
“We get to reach out to them and give them some exposure,” Kelly said. “At least he won’t be shy if he walks into a rink with somebody. He knows about hockey. The first thing you try to do is put a hockey stick in their hand.”
The Flyers made that a little easier by donating 80 sticks, 60 balls and four nets to the Ford PAL Recreation Center. The Flyers also donated 160 tickets across all PAL Philadelphia for the March 25 game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Wells Fargo Center.
“When we started talking about partnering, it was really important for us to figure out how to make sure that we continue to make it fun for them outside of this,” Owen said. “With the Ed Snider Foundation and the donation of the sticks and balls, we’ll be able to start our own league. And now being able to take them to a game is really going to connect all those ties. Seeing it out on the ice should really resonate with the things they did here today.”
It was also a chance for a couple of budding Flyers stars to connect with the local community. Tippett arrived in Philadelphia about a year ago after a trade deadline deal in 2022. Now in his first full year with the Flyers, he’s looking forward to meeting all his neighbors.
“When I got here last year, it was a little later in the year and things were dying down,” Tippett said. “So the first full season in Philly has been great to get out in the community and meet some great people.”
And teach them a few pointers about hockey.
“You hear stories about this is where they get the love for the game and this is where they can come and learn about it first,” Tippett said. “Any time you get to grow the game and put sticks in people’s hands, it’s always fun.”
Frost was all smiles giving one-on-one lessons.
“It’s awesome. I think a lot of the kids never put a hockey stick in their hands before. It’s great any time you can come out, even if it’s a small little part and teach the game and hopefully the kids have fun while teaching them the game that you play every day.”
They might want to slow down the lessons with the level of athleticism that was shown by the young students. Jobs could be at stake.
“They sure kicked our butts playing basketball so we moved on to hockey, which is something they haven’t really been exposed to,” Kelly said with a laugh. “But the kids are really good. They have some energy, they are happy and everyone is getting along together today, so it’s a great situation for the kids to come and have a nice outlet.”