The Keene State College men’s club hockey team has been giving back to the community as of late by taking part in a Learn to Play program at Keene Ice.

Members of the team have been instructing youth players from around the Keene area twice a week since September.

Andrew Pierce, a forward on the KSC men’s club hockey team, handles the organization of the program, and said it’s a rewarding experience to take part in.

“We just try to play fun games with them, [and] keep them interested in hockey,” Pierce said.

Pierce said it gives the kids a chance to work on skills beyond just skating, like stickhandling and passing the puck.

Customer Service Manager and Skating Director at Keene Ice Beth Jasinski handles the managerial side of things for the Learn to Play program. Jasinski said that once they knew the program would be run in-house, she began looking for an on-ice director. She then found Pierce as someone who would be a good choice to run a program like this one. Jasinski said that Pierce has since brought on other players from the KSC men’s club hockey team to help out with the program.

Jasinski also said that Keene Youth Hockey put on the Learn to Play program last year, but this year it was taken over by the people at Keene Ice and has been running since September.

Jasinski said that the number of Keene State players that participate varies from about three to six, whereas the number of youth players that attend the program is at about 14.

“A lot of them [the parents] like it a lot. A lot of the young kids come and watch the hockey games and watch the boys play,” Jasinski said.

Debi King, whose five-year-old daughter takes part in the Learn to Play program, had only good things to say.

“I think it’s great. It’s definitely nice for them [members of the KSC club hockey team] to work with the younger kids. I know my daughter is very excited when she’s out on the ice,” King said.

Dan Smith’s six-year-old son also participates in the program, and Smith said the KSC players work really well with the kids and agreed with King in saying that KSC players provide really good energy for the kids.

King said her daughter is so much faster at skating since coming to the Learn to Play sessions, and Smith said his son’s balance has improved tremendously.

“My guy could barely stand up without falling down, now he’s skating on both legs and everything. He’s doing great,” Smith said.

Jasinski said this type of program is just one way to make a positive impact on the relationship between Keene State College and the Keene community.

Pierce said he’s gotten a good amount of positive feedback since beginning the program and that the improvement he’s seen is what makes it such a rewarding experience.

Pierce said that knowing that he was once in the shoes, or skates, of those youth players is part of what makes helping out so enjoyable. Pierce has come a long way since then, and is now the leading scorer for Keene State with 31 points on the season, according to kschockey.com.

Pierce also said the experience is gratifying for another reason. “Since starting to work with the kids, you can just see such a difference; you can see how much they enjoy it,” Pierce said.

Crae Messer can be contacted at Cmesser@kscequinox.com