Two years ago, the Canandaigua Knights Youth Hockey Conference board of directors was faced with a decision, the result of which could affect the future of the organization: Move from the A level to the AA level, or maintain the status quo?
Ultimately, the western New York-based association went to AA.
"We made that jump because the handwriting was on the wall,” said CKYH President Don Guay. “When we were a Single-A organization we only had one travel team at each level — squirt, peewee, bantam and midget. We noticed when players weren’t making our travel teams they were moving to other organizations.”
The Canandaigua Knights had been successful at the A level, winning bantam and midget New York state championships. And invariably, CKYH teams at least qualified for the state tournament. But that wasn’t sufficient to convince parents that the Knights were a viable organization.
"For some reason, that wasn’t satisfying people,” Guay said. “They were looking for better competition.
"We thought it would be in the best interests of the organization to keep growing so we could play AA completion and keep players in our organization. We viewed it as a customer service because our parents are the customers of our organization.”
The board’s decision proved to be a good one. This season, for example, the Knights have the following travel teams: squirt minor and major; peewee mixed and major; bantam minor AA and AA tournament-bound; midget under-15 and under-18.
In addition, CKYH has a thriving house league with four “B” teams that play in-house and “A” teams that play in the Empire Hockey Conference. As a result, the Knights no longer are losing players to other organizations.
CKYH was launched in the late 1960s, and in the 1990s, it established a series of awards that reflect the organization’s core beliefs.
• The Outstanding Team Sportsmanship Award: Presented to the team that “displays outstanding sportsmanship on and off the ice during the season and whose players are outstanding Knights Ambassadors.” The award is given in memory of United States Marine Corporal Albert S. Knight, after whom the conference is named, and who was Ontario County’s first casualty in the Vietnam War.
• The Raymond C. Dodge Award: Presented to the most improved player of the year in the high school age division. The award is presented in memory of New York State Trooper Raymond Dodge.
• The Don Vetter Humanitarian Award: Presented to players/supporters who have been “instrumental in encouraging and assisting others to learn how to play hockey.”
"I think we look at it as a family and as a family organization,” Guay said while discussing the awards. “It’s been the philosophy since I got involved in the late 1990s.” Another aspect of the Knights’ philosophy is that the organization serves as a feeder program not only for Canandaigua High School but also neighboring Victor High.
"The local high school coach (Jim Armstrong) coaches a travel team (peewee major) in our organization,” Guay said. “We get a lot of people from Victor, and they have a high school team, so we’re a feeder program for both of them.
"We had a high school game (on Nov. 23) between Canandaigua and Rush-Henrietta and had about 500 people. One of the great thrills I had was when I played for my high school team (in West Seneca, which is a suburb of Buffalo). We had two high schools and we were rivals. We’d get 1,500 people in the stands when our high schools played each other.”
Not surprisingly that’s a goal of the boys in the Knights program, to move on to play for the city’s high school team.
The Knights also are strong proponents of USA Hockey’s American Development Model. But Guay readily admits he wasn’t sold on it at first.
"Initially I was opposed to it but I’ve grown to love it,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing going. Just being able to play small-area games and work on skill development is very beneficial.”
What irks Guay is parents whose boys play mite hockey and who prefer full-ice games because they want to see the scoreboard lit up like a pinball machine.
"Some people feel if their boy scores 30 goals, he’s going to the NHL,” said Guay. “It’s not about how many goals and assists you get, but about the friends you make. In our organization, hopefully they last for a lifetime.
"Mite hockey is breakaway hockey. The team that has the fastest kids usually wins games. That’s not what hockey’s about. It’s about teamwork and working together. In small-area games, that’s essential.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.