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Topeka Youth Hockey Association Grows Game in Basketball Country

03/14/2014, 4:00pm EDT
By Mike Scandura - Special to USAHockey.com

For the Topeka Youth Hockey Association, following USA Hockey’s American Development Model is a no-brainer.

“Why re-invent the wheel when all the practice plans are there,” TYHA ACE Coordinator Al Prengel said. “We group squirts and peewees upper, middle, and lower and do various crossover drills. You add to the drill or you take away. You do whatever you have to do to make it successful.

“That’s where I feel I can adapt to anything. It’s easy for me to adapt on the fly. We’ve totally implemented the ADM.”

As a result of the ADM, the TYHA has been able to retain more players than otherwise might be the case.

“I think it’s been real successful (in terms of retaining players),” Prengel said. “Maybe we haven’t retained all the kids in our organization, but some who have gotten better have moved on to play travel hockey in Kansas City. I look at it as retention.

“I pretty much know all the kids by name because most are back every year.”

In one sense, the TYHA is an oasis in a hockey desert and provides an opportunity for far more boys to learn and play the sport than would get the experience if the association, which was formed in September 2008, didn’t exist.

“I would say hockey is definitely a work in progress because the big winter sport is basketball, especially because our area is sparsely populated,” Prengel said. “Kansas City and Wichita are the most heavily populated areas (in Kansas).

“The primary reason youth hockey exists in Topeka is because of the Topeka RoadRunners (a junior team in the North American Hockey League).”

Because of the RoadRunners, the TYHA is able to use that team’s facility, the Kansas Expocentre.

“The RoadRunners go out into the community, especially to the elementary schools where they do reading programs,” Prengel said. “A lot of people are surprised to find out there is youth hockey in Topeka. But we help put people in the seats at the RoadRunners games.”

The TYHA also benefits from its association with the Topeka Capitals, who play in the North American 3 Hockey League — one of nine USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III junior leagues in the country.

“Between the RoadRunners and the Capitals, it’s a partnership,” Prengel said. “Some of the players from each team help out at practices. They fill in where needed. A coach will have them help out in a drill.

“Occasionally we have one of their coaches come in and speak at our clinics. They’re willing to help out whenever and wherever they can. Without them, they wouldn’t keep ice in the Expocentre. Some of our kids would have to go to Kansas City, which is an hour away.”

Approximately 100 boys are registered this season in the TYHA, which is comprised of a learn-to-play program; Under-8 red, white and blue teams; plus a single team at each of the squirt, peewee, peewee select and bantam levels.

“The peewee select team is for the better peewee and squirt kids,” explained Prengel. “It’s a tournament team that consists of the better kids that are between house and A-level hockey.”

While Topeka lacks a high school hockey team, the TYHA could be the forerunner of things to come.

“We’re not there yet … there isn’t a high school team in the city,” Prengel said. “What we do is more about promoting hockey and the team concept. It’s promoting another avenue for families. It lends itself to lifelong friendships not only for kids but also families. It’s also about promoting good qualities in kids.

“One thing with our program is our bantam kids are ones who started late. But from peewees on down, the kids are sticking with it. Obviously you want to grow from the bottom up. We’re starting to see that. Eventually, we might end up with a high school team.”

And that would be a team that quite likely would consist of TYHA alumni.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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