- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - The students in Dawn Bunner’s fourth-grade class at Corpus Christi Catholic School in Evansville liked the fast-paced action during the first period of a rare Wednesday morning Evansville IceMen hockey game at the Ford Center. And they really liked their seats that gave them such a close-up view of the action.

“I like the checking,” said 9-year-old Logan Hamilton, who was in the second row right next to the visitor’s bench.

Four goals were scored in the first period, two each by the IceMen and their opponents, the Elmira Jackals. The visitors ultimately won the contest 3-2, scoring the game’s only goal over the next 40 minutes.

Six of Bunner’s students got to sit in the front row, which the teacher acknowledged was a unique experience for them.

“They’re really excited. They have the front rows. A lot of the kids have never been in the front before,” she told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1x6QUUt ). “It’s really fun for me. I like seeing the kids having a good time in a setting other than the classroom.

Having such prime seats also meant some of the students could impersonate some of the sport’s most rabid fans, who bang on the glass when the action is in front of them.

Being able to do that was pretty cool, acknowledged classmates Lucas Kuhn, Brock Schreiber and Wesley Shaver during intermission after the first period.

“My favorite part is banging on the walls when they come by,” Kuhn said.

Wednesday’s game was the team’s fourth edition of the annual Education Day Game, and it attracted about 5,400 students and their teachers, said the team’s marketing director, Bridget McDonald. As part of Education Day, the team offers discounted tickets to the game to schools in Southwestern Indiana, Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois. She said the team knows that such games are the first time some of the students have ever been exposed to hockey.

“This is way that they can come out and enjoy a game with all of their friends, McDonald said. “The hope is that they enjoy it and bring Mom and Dad back later, but it’s also a community outreach program so they can experience a new sport.”

The team also provided the classes at Wednesday’s early game a 26-page workbook full of hockey-related lessons on a variety of subjects, including math, English and science. It also included information about the importance of exercise and eating healthy.

“There’s a bully lesson in there,” Bunner said. “There’s a writing prompt and grammar (lessons) … The books came to us late, but we’re going to go over it after the game.”

The lesson Bunner referred to is an anti-bullying campaign sponsored by the team that is simply called “No More Bullies.” It was started by Brian Patafie, the team’s head athletic trainer, and encourages students to make their school a “Bully Free Zone.”

Students from St. John the Baptist School in Newburgh, which brought its sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to the game, were seated in a section of the area adjacent to the Corpus Christi students. The two schools often competed, trying to be louder than each other every time Blizzard, the IceMen’s polar bear mascot, came by to throw coveted free Frisbees or some other promotional items to the crowd.

The game was the first IceMen game for seasoned youth hockey player Tye Gordon, a St. John’s sixth grader who moved to the area from Wisconsin just a short time ago.

He, too, said he’s never sat so close to the ice during a professional hockey game.

While the students were clearly excited for the game well before the puck dropped at 9:30 a.m., McDonald acknowledged that the early start probably required some adjustment for those on the ice. But she hoped the students’ enthusiasm easily made up for that.

“I think that the players thrive off the energy (of the students) to get them up and going,” she said during the game. “This was actually earlier than their typical practice time.”

As part of the Education Day festivities, the IceMen had a contest earlier asking students for their designs for the team’s special jerseys for the game. That contest was won by Eli Minar, a sixth-grader at Holy Redeemer School in Evansville. As the winner, Minar got to drop the ceremonial first puck at Wednesday’s game. The jerseys worn during the education game will be auctioned after the IceMen’s next game, on Friday night.


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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