This game of pick up sticks certainly had more oomph than the typical grammar school variety. Fast-moving boys darted past girls a half-head higher in an attempt to be the first to hit a rubber ball into a hockey net.


"Come on, hit it!" one player urged a teammate.


The ball missed its mark and the players nearly all wearing wide grins ran full-speed to the other end.


"Of our 830 kids I bet you 800 of them have never picked up a hockey stick," said Dave Stewart, principal of Mesquite Trails Elementary School in Hesperia. "Everybody's on an even playing field today."


Students from 24 classrooms were participating in the L.A. Kings Care Hockey Program, a clinic conducted by members of the team's "fan development" staff. To participate, Mesquite Trails students had to complete all assignments and demonstrate good behavior for a month prior to Thursday's event. Participants also entered a drawing for free tickets to an L.A. Kings game.


"A lot of people don't know about hockey," said Joe Oganesyan, a L.A. Kings marketing representative who participated in the the event. "Hockey starts with the kids. We're concerned about the future of the sport. We do our best to go around and do what we can."


While the Victor Valley isn't exactly a hockey center, Oganesyan said it's not impossible that the next Wayne Gretzky could come from the High Desert. Outside of Stewart's native Canada or other locales with frigid winters, talented hockey players can come from almost anywhere. And soccer, which is popular locally, is a common developing ground.


"Most kids who play soccer adapt to hockey a lot better," Oganesyan said. "They have developed their hand-eye coordination better than the average kid."


He said that those interested in hockey should start going to an ice-skating rink such as those in Lake Arrowhead or Ontario.


"Every ice rink has hockey classes and teams."


Similar to his personal association with Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay, Stewart connected with the L.A. Kings organization through an association with a fellow athlete.


"I used to train with the Kings' ex strength coach," he said.


Stewart, who was one of Canada's top-ranked decathletes a few years ago, demonstrated the value of playing hockey like he does with all athletics. He too picked up a stick and went after the ball.


"Exposure to new things is key to elementary school students," he said. "Maybe this will inspire teachers to do more hockey stuff."


He was especially appreciative of the L.A. Kings staff, which has agreed to future projects at the school.


"They've been very generous. They left at 5 a.m. this morning from El Segundo to be here today."


Oganesyan, who is planning a career in dentistry following his stint with the L.A. Kings, said that hockey hopefuls also need to concentrate on their education.


"They need to keep that focus on school," he said. "Even if they get drafted they need the high grades."


Stewart was pleased with the first-ever hockey clinic.


"Their eyes are on the ball," Stewart said. "And everybody's having a blast."