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Junior Falcons Help Girls Soar to New Heights in New England

04/29/2014, 10:45am MDT
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

The New England Junior Falcons have gone from one split-season girls’ team to 100 girls on the program’s six travel teams in just five years.

There is no end in sight for that growth.

Falcons girls’ director Carol Lessard said the Enfield, Conn.-based program planned to conduct tryouts in late April with the goal of filling 10 teams for the 2014-15 season.

Lessard has worked in an administrative role at the Enfield Twin Rinks and served as the Falcons girls’ director for the five-year growth period. She points to two primary reasons for the increased interest in playing for the association based in the northwest part of the state on the Massachusetts border.

First, the Falcons have succeeded in making themselves attractive both to players who want to use the program as a steppingstone to the many prominent prep school programs in the region as well as those players who want the Falcons to be their main hockey focus.

Second, under the guidance of Tom O’Connor, one of the team’s owners, the Falcons have built a strong coaching staff that attracts interested players and families.

“We’re pleased with our numbers,” Lessard said. “I think one of the things we do well is that several of our players through the years have attended prep schools, and I think part of the reason is the affiliation with our program. We work with the prep schools.”

Many of the high school/prep school players in New England compete in half-season leagues before their school season starts.

The Falcons had a split-season team on the Under-19 level and a full-season team on the U16 level this season. They will enter into tryouts looking to see if they can field split- and full-season teams on both of those higher age levels for 2014-15.

“Not all of our skaters attend prep school or wish to attend prep school,” Lessard said. “We always provide a high-level team for the girls who play for us full-season as well. We’re not here just to fill the prep schools, but some of our girls have educational options that they would not have had if they did not skate for our program.

“But we have other girls who have gone on to be very successful who also stayed here and played for our local high schools or our U19 teams.”

Lessard said the concentration on recruiting and keeping quality coaches has also played a key role in helping the Falcons keep players in the program as they progress through the age groups. The team competes in the Massachusetts district and the Massachusetts state tournament because the bulk of its roster comes from that state.

While they draw from around western Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Falcons also attract players from Vermont and New Hampshire who travel in to Enfield to be part of the teams.

The New England Girls’ Hockey League helps in the process with a large membership and its ability to provide options for keeping teams paired in divisions that make games competitive.

The list of alumni from the Junior Falcons girls’ team includes Kacey Bellamy, who went on to play for the Berkshire School, the University of New Hampshire and most recently the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team that won a silver medal in Sochi, Russia.

When members of the Olympic women’s team were given the opportunity to select youth hockey organizations to receive 12 sets of OneGoal starter equipment as a donation, Bellamy chose The Junior Falcons program.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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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.

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“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.”

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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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