Hockey booster seeking to connect with urban youth

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
With construction of the Little Caesars Arena in full swing, Rick Robertson believes there's plenty of hockey buzz in Detroit.

For Rick Robertson, the timing seems as good as ever.

With construction of $627.5 million Little Caesars Arena in full swing and the Red Wings’ selection of 18-year-old forward Givani Smith in the second round of the NHL Draft, the downtown Detroit resident believes there’s plenty of hockey buzz in the city.

So in an effort to promote hockey among urban youth, Robertson is launching an outreach called the Detroit Amateur Hockey Info Table.

Its purpose is to answer questions about the sport and sign up kids of all ages in Detroit for skating lessons and hockey teams. There also are plans for hockey watch parties and providing complimentary hockey tickets.

“What we are is an introductory platform for hockey,” said Robertson, a community activist and consultant of volunteerism. “The idea is to get out there in places where you don’t find much visibility of a relationship with Detroit players, urban players, black players, players of color here in the city of Detroit.”

Robertson, 59, has two dates set — today at Gendel’s Collision and July 30 at Westside Pharmacy. Both run from 10-11:30 a.m.

Promoting amateur hockey is nothing new to Robertson. He began in 1975, founded the Highland Park Hockey Club — the first black hockey club in Michigan — and ran a Detroit-based youth team program for several years in the 1970s.

As a young adult running the program, Robertson ran into unexpected costs and couldn’t afford to do everything he wanted. He also learned how difficult it was to keep kids committed.

Six years ago, Robertson headed another program for a year where he worked with a couple kids and gave away tickets to games.

“I think now with the idea of this new stadium and the fact (the Red Wings) are bringing in a black player (Smith, who is from Canada), this kind of thing will help to move it along,” Robertson said. “I think a lot of kids would enjoy it who just by virtue of not having an opportunity to be really exposed to it early enough where it would make a difference.

“I’m attacking it a little bit differently this time and I think what we’re able to do and bring together, it could be that little hoist to get a few people interested — maybe if not now but could begin a productive seed to develop such a thing.”

To do so, Robertson will utilize the relationships he’s garnered the past 40 years to help “make that bridge a little more seamless.”

He has connections with 13 skating programs for kids who need to learn to skate and eight youth hockey programs he could integrate players into across Metro Detroit.

Robertson also is aware of the gaps that exist and has created a fund to address particular needs — for skates, sticks, pads, a ride, or the cost of a program.

This approach, he believes, will help get the ball rolling since it looks at “all the pieces necessary to promote and develop hockey in Detroit.”

“Rather than try to create a whole new league, because this isn’t about the profit piece, it’s about funneling these kids into some opportunities if they’re interested in hockey,” Robertson said.

Detroit Amateur Hockey Info Table

Dates: Today and July 30

Sites: Today — Gendel’s Collision, 10031 West Seven Mile Road, Detroit. July 30 — Westside Pharmacy of Detroit, 10600 West McNichols Road, Detroit

Times: 10-11:30 a.m.