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Nov. 5, 2010

by Karen Patterson

Academia and professional hockey are two things that most people don’t naturally associate together. However, once a year the two come together to create a unique experience for 5,000 students from all over the state Michigan. The Griffins’ matinee game, presented by Lake Michigan Credit Union will take place for the tenth year in a row on Wednesday, November 10.

This year’s event will feature three career speakers for high school students, a feature presentation involving science and engineering put on by students and professors from Michigan Technological University for elementary kids, as well as senior bingo for area senior citizens.

“The Michigan Tech interactive display is unbelievably cool,” John Hoffa said. Hoffa, the Griffins’ group ticket sales manager, has served as director of the matinee game for the last five years.

“The Michigan Tech people bring in something called an oobleck, and it’s a concoction they create by mixing corn starch and water in some fashion. Essentially it allows the students to walk on water, and there’s a big focus on texture.”

For Hoffa, the goal is to provide a valuable educational experience with the excitement of a hockey game supplementing the learning that occurs first.

“Every year we want to make sure that the educational element is on point, fun, and relevant for the students,” Hoffa said. “We don’t necessarily feel pressure to tie the learning into hockey because there is only so much that can be done with that.”

With that freedom comes the opportunity to provide practical, interesting seminars for high school students as they approach key decisions in their academic careers. In the lower bowl, three area businessmen and woman will impart knowledge to the older students. Julie Regan, a local entrepreneur with a successful jewelry company will speak on leadership, motivation, and her own start in the business world.

“I think there are a lot of high school students who think, ‘I’ll start my own business so that I can be my own boss,’ and Julie can help them understand that it’s really hard, but possible,” Hoffa said.

Michael Yoder from Deksia will share with the students the importance of emerging social media, discussing how websites such as Facebook and Twitter are useful for more than just communicating with friends. With many businesses using Facebook and Twitter as a key part of their marketing and networking, knowledge of how to properly use these mediums as more than a way to keep in touch with friends has become more critical than ever.

“As a business tool, social media is amazing,” Hoffa commented. “Facebook and Twitter can be useful for finding a career, locating a job, furthering business skills. It’s pretty unlimited now.”

The third speaker, Vickie Smith from Lake Michigan Credit Union, will present “Money Matters,” touching on different financial terminology and why it is important to be responsible financially after high school.

While the younger students are being dazzled by Michigan Tech and the high school students learn about how daily activities can help them long term, an entirely different set of residents will have some fun of their own.

“Last year Valisa Maki, one of our account executives, had the idea of running a large Bingo game for the older citizens of the area,” Hoffa said. “We thought, ‘we already have elementary, middle school, and high school students coming. What happens if we jump ahead 50 years and bring in another demographic?’”

The result was nearly 300 attendees playing bingo in one of the Van Andel Arena’s banquet rooms. “It’s funny because we’re bringing in two very different demographics, but it seems to work and people enjoy themselves,” Hoffa said.

The matinee game does pose a challenge for Hoffa and the rest of the Griffins front office staff that is unlike any of the other 39 home games in a season. Aside from the fact that the game takes place on a weekday, the puck drops at noon, an unusual occurrence for both the front office and the players.

“The front office really comes together for this game,” Hoffa said. “Everybody has some task in the arena. We have buses coming from all over the state and arriving in a thirty-minute span of time, and this year we’ll have to work around the concourse expansion. We have people assisting the bingo players back and forth from the banquet rooms to their seats; others are helping distribute boxed lunches. We all have our own little tasks and it’s neat to see how it all comes together.”

For Hoffa, the unique challenge of creating an interesting program that has educational value followed by a professional hockey game takes a new face each year.

“We really try to hone in on that first hour and a half and do straight education, and then let them enjoy the hockey game after that. What Michigan Tech does has just really blown the lid off this, where it has become very interesting and engaging. Hopefully these students don’t even realize they’re learning because they’re also having fun,” Hoffa said.

And of course the big draw for the event is the Griffins game at noon.

“It is probably the loudest game of the entire season,” Hoffa said. “Every year we play the Spongebob Squarepants theme song and the arena just goes nuts.”

Hoffa’s first year running the matinee game, the Griffins lost to the Milwaukee Admirals 8-1, but shared that the kids still loved it. “They were cheering the whole time anyway and it worked out well because they were just having so much fun. They cheer for every hit, every slap shot. Really, they’re just excited about the game and any action that happens.”

The Admirals will provide the opponent once again this season, having not visited Grand Rapids for a matinee since delivering that big loss in 2006-07.

For the players, a day game is an unusual occurrence, but Griffins’ defenseman Logan Pyett shared that the game can be fun for them as well. “It’s always really enjoyable because all the kids are so excited and loud. They have a lot of energy and that’s great for helping our energy level. It should be a good game this year.”

Win or lose, the matinee game provides the Griffins organization with an opportunity to engage students from all over the area on both educational and entertainment levels, providing a chance to reach out to an entire new set of fans.

If interested in purchasing tickets to this season’s matinee game on Nov. 10, please click here.

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