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From house to travel to juniors, the Hampton Roads Whalers have it covered

04/05/2013, 12:45pm EDT
By Mike Scandura

The Hampton Roads Whalers offer a variety of programs not only for youth travel and house league teams but also for junior hockey players. But one aspect the Virginia-based organization offers arguably might be the most important.
 
“What’s proven to be a huge plus is our ‘Whaler Nation Happy Hour,’ which is a seven-week summer program that runs from Monday through Thursday,” Whaler Nation Director Brad Jones said. “We get kids on ice, have fun and knock off the cobwebs.”
 
Besides skill sessions run by Jones and Andy Newton, power skating session runs by power skating instructor Suzie Hewitt and small-area games, the boys also train with strength coach Aaron Eppler, who worked with the Phillies and has a 2008 World Series championship ring.
 
“Aaron helps develop core values and has been a valuable asset to us,” Jones said. “He gives every kid a baseline concussion test at the end of the summer and before the beginning of each season. With concussions being under a microscope, it’s important that we have this type of test.”
 
There’s more.
 
“We also have an injury evaluation session every Wednesday night with a physician,” Jones said. “If your wrist is sore or whatever your problem may be, treatment will be recommended as will be the case if a boy needs to see a specialist.”
 
The Whalers, who were founded in 1998, field Peewee AA and B teams, a Bantam A team, Midget Under-16 A and AA teams plus a Midget U-18 A team that encompass approximately 100 players. But the organization’s house league almost is bursting at the seams.
 
“Our house league is the biggest it’s ever been,” Jones said. “We have about 150 kids in our house league and 55 in our learn-to-play program.”
 
The obvious question is why has the house league expanded to such a high number of boys?
 
“Five years ago we started the Chilled Ponds Hockey Academy [at the Chilled Ponds Arena], which is a 16-week summer program designed to fast track kids to play in our house league,” Jones said. “We took various components of the American Development Model like power skating, 3-on-3 cross ice and skill stations. Through that we’ve shown tremendous growth.
 
“We’ve offered ‘Try Hockey for Free’ the last four years and have averaged 60-plus kids. We try to get 30 percent of those kids to come back.”
 
The Whalers also have a strong relationship with the AHL’s defending Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals.
 
Among other things, Whalers players stand with the Admirals during the playing of the National Anthem at The Scope in Norfolk. The Admirals also allow the Whalers to set up a stand at games where they hand out promotional material for everything from figure skating to travel hockey.
 
The Whalers play in the Capital Beltway Hockey League. Over the years they’ve enjoyed a significant amount of success.
 
“We’ve won our fair share over the last few years,” Jones said. “We’ve seen a Squirt A, Bantam AA and a Peewee AA championship. And that same Peewee AA team has won the Silver Stix.
 
“Typically, we have teams compete every year for the playoffs.”
 
Not surprisingly, the Whalers travel teams serve as a feeder program for the organization’s junior teams.
 
“We strive to give these kids the tools to play junior hockey whether they want to or not,” Jones said. “On our Empire team, about 10 of the 21 boys were locals who came up through our youth program. And on our EJHL South team, we had about seven out of 23 kids who were local.
 
“We utilize similar training programs. Our goal is ice time because there isn’t a substitute for ice time.”
 
Jones admits that while winning championships is a cause for excitement, the same can be said when boys achieve specific goals.
 
“What’s satisfying for me is seeing the development and growth,” he said. “It’s seeing our house kids excited to make travel teams and our travel kids excited to make juniors.
 
“Championships are nice, but for us it’s seeing the kids reach their goals. And one goal is to give kids the skills to play at the next level.”
 
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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