When Jon Brooks, president of Arizona Amateur Hockey Association, first saw a portable cross-ice boards system at the USA Hockey Winter Meeting in January 2012, he knew right away it would benefit the players in his state.
“They were quality boards that created an age-appropriate real playing surface and I believed they would be a positive thing for our customers,” said Brooks. “When we got back to Arizona, we proposed to our board of directors that we pick up the cost to get them for our arenas.”
AAHA purchased six sets of the cross-ice boards and made them available to the arenas in Arizona in November 2012. Two arenas in the state also purchased a second set of boards themselves.
“We have embraced the cross-ice boards because the kids love it and parents love it,” said Jim Rogers, the longtime owner of Phoenix’s Arcadia Ice Arena and AAHA’s vice-president and treasurer. “Playing cross-ice and using small area games has helped us develop some really good players.”
Rogers, who also serves as an administrator for the Valley of the Sun Hockey Association, has been running youth programs for over 20 years and his player retention rate has never been better.
“The kids are touching the puck more, developing skills, having fun and staying in the game,” said Rogers. “And when you get more kids playing, they’re supporting the rinks and we’re not escalating the cost of hockey so it forces kids out. This is a win-win.
“I believe in the American Development Model and the cross-ice boards are a big part of it.”
About 145 miles north of Phoenix, the Flagstaff Youth Hockey Association started using the cross-ice boards as soon as they arrived and then bought another set because players loved them. And Dave Bereson, FYHA vice-president, knows why.
“They are playing inside a real rink with real corners and I think it makes them feel more a part of the game,” said Bereson, who also runs the association’s 8U program. “The first day we set them up, the kids were using the boards to make passes and now they know they can play next to the boards as opposed to a foam bumper, and if they don’t stop or someone pushes them, they are not falling down into the next (rink).
“It immediately changed the pace and how the kids played the game. And the parents saw it too.”
Bereson credits Joe Doyle, a former USA Hockey ADM regional manager, with helping the FYHA to “see the light with the ADM.” The association has followed ADM guidelines for four years, but lost parts of two seasons when the roof of their home rink, the Jay Lively Ice Arena, collapsed under six feet of snow in January 2010.
The arena re-opened nine months later and the FYHA has now grown to 89 registered 6U and 8U players.
“After we lost our ice, we had to reset everything and the ADM helped us rebuild our program,” said Bereson. “This is the first group of mites that have been through the ADM and the players love it. Next year we will have true 6U, 8U and 10U programs.”
Bereson regularly has 60-65 players on the ice doing station-based practices or playing games in three separate “ponds” created by the cross-ice boards.
“We had planned on capping our registration, but we couldn’t turn anyone away,” said Bereson. “With only one sheet of ice we have to be creative and it can get a little crazy, but it’s fun. I have a smile on my face and so do all the kids.”
Rogers and Bereson have each hosted mite jamborees that have attracted teams from across the state and exposed them to the benefits of cross-ice play with the same results.
“The kids have a blast and the parents get it after they see it,” said Rogers.
As a rink owner and coach, that’s exactly what Rogers wants to see more of.
“Whatever we can do to get kids more puck touches and have more fun is a good thing,” said Rogers. “Kids that have fun on the ice and develop their skills will love hockey for life.”