OAKLAND -- In a place like the greater Bay Area where so many sports reign supreme and twigs and pucks aren't easy to come by, hockey isn't usually the first sport a middle schooler will gravitate toward.
When Evander Kane asked a room full of students at Westlake Middle School in Oakland how many of them had ever played ice hockey, not too many hands were raised.
But Kim Davis, NHL Executive VP of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives, and Legislative Affairs, believes that can change. And after an afternoon when students played a little pick-up hockey on the school blacktop with Kane himself, she told NBC Sports California that she sees potential to grow the game.
"Just listening to the kids inside being asked 'Who's your favorite player? Who's your favorite team?' Tomorrow, they'll have answers to that because of what happened here today," Davis said Monday afternoon as a gaggle of middle-schoolers on the inflatable-barricaded rink in front of her cheered as one scored a goal.
That's a positive outcome in Davis' line of work, as the "Hockey Is For Everyone" initiative works to make the sport accessible to kids no matter their race, religion or socioeconomic background. Since being placed in her current role with the league, Davis has been tasked with answering critics when it comes to making hockey more welcoming to all players and their fans.
So even at a school where picking up a basketball is more feasible, Davis wants pick-up hockey to be an option. That starts with equipping students with a couple of hockey sticks and some goal nets -- no expensive equipment required.
"At the league, we're constantly thinking of ways in which we can innovate around ball and street," she said when talking about the access schools have to hockey equipment, even if it's just a couple of sticks. "I often talk about exposure in urban centers, particularly within two dynamics -- one is exposure, and the other is access."
That exposure comes from having a player to look up to, and it doesn't hurt that the San Jose Sharks' "Hockey Is For Everyone" ambassador is Kane. The students who participated in Monday's pick-up game didn't just gain a better understanding of hockey over the afternoon, but also clearly enjoyed interacting with Kane.
"I met Evander at an ESPN event this summer, and we had a natural connection," Davis said. "I really think he's coming into his own in terms of him being able to come into communities and be a relatable figure. And I really think that representation counts."
Bringing hockey to the rest of the Bay Area doesn't stop with this one venture to Westlake Middle School, either. Davis' goal is to make hockey accessible all year long in all corners of the country.
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"We're testing in Boston, this new innovation around 'hoop net' where we take a basketball court and we're able to put a hockey net between two basketball courts and kids can have pickup games on their own," Davis said. "It's year-round. Just having kids know that there's another sport available to them.
"I really think that's the bottom line."