Rookies score an intense workout with adult hockey classes

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Kay Jennings, a psychologist from Highland Park, never wanted to figure skate but likes to play hockey.

She's been going to the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center on Neville Island for about nine years, to play hockey and fine-tune her skating and stick-handling skills. She's a former member of the Island Storm women's hockey team.

“At my age, I'm never going to be any good,” said Jennings, 71, although she smoothly plied the ice on Sunday during the first session of this month's Adult Hockey Skating and Game Skills classes at the center. Instructor Marianne Watkins, the center's director of hockey skating, led 19 men and 11 women through skills at the covered outdoor rink.

“I'm dripping wet when I get out,” Jennings said. “I don't do it for the exercise; I do it because it's fun.”

The sports center offers two types of hourlong hockey skating and game skills classes from October through March, each about five weeks long. Rookies can take a class at 8:45 p.m. Sundays, and veterans' classes follow at 9:55 p.m.

Watkins, demonstrating the semi-squat that hockey fans recognize, said the sport is based on leg movements. “Get on your inside (blade) edge and push back and forth,” she said.

Students paired up and faced each other holding ends of two sticks, to practice swiveling their hips. They practiced stopping, skating backward and doing other exercises. Some easily executed the moves, while novices occasionally fell and got right back up.

“I still can't stop, but I'm better than I was,” said Sarah Debo, 23, of New Brighton. “I have no hobbies, and I like hockey … Eventually, I'd like to play in a league.”

Watkins, a native of a hockey hotbed Peterborough, Ontario, competed in figure skating when she was younger because there were no hockey teams for girls.

Later, she coached figure skating and played hockey. Today, she is a skating consultant to the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been at the sports center for 15 years.

“If (the adults) can't skate, they can't shoot and they can't pass,” she said.

Adults in classes that Watkins teaches “make me realize how hard (skating) is” to learn as an adult, she said. “You're on a slippery surface on metal a millimeter wide, mostly on one edge.”

The adults have various reasons for taking the classes.

Brian Brinza, 56, of Moon is in his second set to “sharpen my skills” as a player in an adult league. “Hockey's a great sport for keeping in shape,” he said. His sons, now grown, played hockey through high school.

Mariana Rieke, 37, of Moon has three sons, ages 8 and twins, 5, who play hockey. But that didn't motivate her to take a class.

“I first came to exercise. I need action because of my personality. I couldn't do yoga,” said Rieke, a native of Argentina.

“I know what to do, but knowing it and doing it are two different things,” said Shawn Leydig, 32, of Coraopolis, who played pick-up hockey games a few years ago. “(Watkins) is putting us together in steps. We're learning from the ground up.”

Each class has about 20 minutes of skating exercises and practice, and another 20 minutes of puck-handling skills. The last part often is an informal hockey game.

But because Sunday's first class started the new session, Watkins gave skating instructions and exercises to rookies for the entire hour.

“I always told my husband I wanted to play hockey,” said Stacy Shatlock, 29, of Evans City, who has taken the class before.

The class helps her work out. “I usually burn about 600 calories,” Shatlock said, which is surprising considering the time spent waiting while other students practice a skill.

“You don't feel like you're burning that many calories,” she said. “It's a great workout.”

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a freelance writer.

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