At Shea Rink, just over the Braintree line in Quincy, the players cruise back and forth between nets, scoring goals every few minutes and learning the quick skate and stick movements that they will bring with them as they age into squirts, high school and beyond.
But for these Braintree Youth Hockey players, participating in the newly-developed "Friday Night Mites" program is really all about having fun. No scores are kept and the boys and girls, mostly ages 5-8, take turns coming off the bench in their multi-colored jerseys, tagged with the names of professional hockey teams.
"It's creating an atmosphere that they want to be in," said Mick McDonough, who helped develop the program this year with Nick DiMartino, a Friday Night Mites director who McDonough said was "instrumental" in establishing it.
They also received support from the BYH Board of Directors and input from Keith Blaney, the Mite Director, Jim Lockhart and Tommy Norton.
Friday Night Mites was put together to help the players transition to cross ice games rather than full ice, as mandated by USA Hockey for Mites C and B. The A players will also be required to play using the smaller footprint starting next year.
By using only a portion of the rink – the program sets up three games at a time, twice a night – the players experience "more of a game-like situation," McDonough said.
"They have to think quicker, they have to move quicker," he said.
Last Friday night, with Christmas approaching, the coaches and parent volunteers turned the fun level up another notch, inviting Santa to join the players for photos at halftime. Each player also received a T-shirt to commemorate their participation.
The program ran weekly from September through November and continues bi-weekly into March. About 130 kids participate and they are split into 12 teams in two divisions.
Before the players reach the Mite level, Lockhart offers a learn-to-skate program, featuring a 4:1 player-to-coach ratio, and they can then move on to instructional hockey.
"We are very proud of the program," McDonough said. "We have a very strong program."
More information on Braintree Youth Hockey can be found at http://www.braintreeyouthhockey.org.