Sean Kelley was a Midget club player in high school, hoping to eventually find a chance to play hockey on a higher level. He did not have to look far.
When his hometown Gillette Wild program added a junior team to play in the American West Hockey League during his senior year in high school, Kelley saw an opportunity. Two years later, Kelley is one of the AWHL’s top goalies while trying to help the Wild move up through the league’s ranks.
“Growing up, I always wanted to go to a higher level and push myself,” Kelley said. “With the junior team coming in, it was a dream come true. I was able to stay home and still play at a higher level.”
First, Kelley had to make it on to the team.
“I tried out for the team the first year and I didn’t make it,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Wow.’ The speed was so much faster, the guys were so much bigger. I was pretty much in awe the whole time.”
Kelley acknowledges that he essentially idolized the players on the first Wild junior team. He went to as many of their home games as he could. Kelley also became friends with many of the players, who encouraged him to keep working on his game to keep pursuing his goal.
“I made really good friends,” he said. “I got taken under their wings. They told me what to expect.”
Much has changed in the past two years.
Kelley made the team in 2012-13. He started out as the third goalie but thrived in his playing opportunities while clearly proving he belonged in the AWHL. Kelley went 11-2 with a 2.70 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
“He had two veterans ahead of him last year, but by the end of the season we had some tough decisions,” Wild coach and general manager Tom Winkler said.
This season, Kelley is not just the AWHL’s busiest goalie but he is also one of its best.
Injuries forced Kelley’s role to change from being in pursuit of No. 1 goalie status to taking on almost all of the playing time for nearly three months.
Following Sunday’s 6-0 win over the Billings Bulls in which he posted his second 41-save shutout in less than three weeks, Kelley leads the AWHL in games, minutes played and shutouts (six), while ranking second in save percentage (.933), tied for third in wins (14) and fourth in GAA (2.33).
“He’s pretty technical,” Winkler said. “He definitely comes out and challenges shooters, and he’s confident in his abilities.
“I think the biggest thing he’s done in the past few weeks is that his rebound control has been really solid. He limits the rebounds in front and takes away the second and third opportunities.”
Winkler also praised how well Kelley gets from post to post. Kelley, who is taking classes at Gillette Community College, is hoping his play will open up a new chance to play at another level, as an NCAA Division III goalie.
Kelley’s progress can perhaps be measured by the fact that he is now working on subtle adjustments in his game rather than simply trying to prove he can compete at this level. He was able to describe in great detail the process of working on improving the use of his hands, including catching pucks more cleanly with his glove and altering the usual position of his glove and blocker by inches.
“I guess that shows how far I’ve come,” he said, “but I’m still where I have things to work on.”
Kelley’s game has come a long way, but one of the best parts for him is that he did not have to go far to make that happen.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
March 27, 2017 | When USA Hockey implemented its American Development Model in 2009, one element of the nationwide age-appropriate training blueprint sparked more debate than any other: cross-ice hockey for 8U players. In the years since, an abundance of evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, has proven the developmental advantages of cross-ice hockey.
This week, Hockey Canada announced that it too will introduce its players to the game through cross-ice play beginning in 2017-18.
“Re-sizing the playing surface to cross-ice or half-ice means more puck touches, which result in more chances to practice puck control and shooting, as well as overall more movement and motor skill-development – twisting, turning, balance, coordination, agility,” said Paul Carson, vice-president of membership development for Hockey Canada, in a release today. “Their field-of-play matches their size, and these players hone in on their skill-development in a way that larger ice surfaces just aren’t conducive to.”
The Grassroots Show on Ottawa’s TSN 1200 weighed in on the decision. Click the audio link below to hear how Canada is embracing cross-ice hockey for the coming season and beyond.
Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, appeared on the Grassroots Show to discuss the nationwide shift to cross-ice hockey, beginning this fall for 5- and 6-year-olds and expanding to all of Canada's Novice (8U) level in 2018-19.
“When you see 10 or 12 or 14 or 16 kids out on the ice in between periods and they’re playing 200-by-85 and 3 or 4 kids touch the puck in that whole six minutes, yet there’s people in the stands clapping and thinking it’s wonderful, I just can’t help but think about the 95 percent of the children that didn’t even touch the puck or get from one end of the rink to the other and I ask myself what are we doing when the opportunity is certainly there to have 30 kids on the ice playing cross-ice and everyone is having a much better opportunity to touch the puck, skate a shorter distance and really play. It just boggles my mind,” said Renney.
“We completely embrace, at the Initiation level and the Novice level, cross-ice hockey and we have mandated that in the Initiation program and we will mandate it across the country in Novice hockey.
“This is about the pure enjoyment of the game, and your first connection with it has to be something that’s pure fun, on a surface of play that is conducive to much more participation and joy.”
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