The Pottstown Penguins aren’t the biggest youth hockey organization in Pennsylvania, nor are they a Tier I elite program.
Yet what’s kept the organization thriving — it will celebrate its 50th anniversary this season — is simple.
At the Penguins’ core is a determination to offer young boys an activity that can pay dividends now and in the future. And in recent years that mission has been boosted by USA Hockey’s American Development Model, a skill development-focused, age-appropriate competition format that helped improve the association’s retention rate.
“The small-area play makes a definite difference in the number of touches the players get with the puck,” said Penguins President Mark Moyer. “In the past, it wasn’t uncommon to see players fail to touch the puck. You don’t see that anymore. The younger kids benefit from the cross-ice mite program."
“In the second component of the ADM, with the squirts, we make sure the practice-to-game ratio is great. Years ago, squirts were playing 60 games. That’s subsided with more emphasis on skill development. The better the kids become, the more they will stay in the game.”
Moyer said the board of directors and the coaching staff works hard to ensure their members develop an affinity for hockey.
“It’s kind of corny, but I gauge how well we’re doing by the number of kids that come back and who coach and help with the learn-to-skate program,” Moyer said. “We do pride ourselves on the fact that the kids who go through our program come back to our program. That’s more important than winning national championships."
“A couple of years back, when things got tight, one of the coaches said, ‘If we keep the Penguins alive and can keep even one kid from getting in trouble, it’s worth every cent.’ Hockey teaches responsibility and work ethic. If we can make them better adults, then it’s worth it. It’s not lip service. That’s what we really believe.”
The Penguins also believe in the benefit of practices as opposed to playing multiple games every week.
“You can’t practice enough,” Moyer said. “Practices give you the chance to hone your skills — like shooting, passing and skating. You need practices in order to be able to hone your skills.”
Before players move on to higher levels, where the commitment increases, they first must participate in the Penguins’ learn-to-skate/learn-to-play program.
“We offer a very low-cost program and it’s very popular,” Moyer said. “They’re extremely beneficial and feed our mite program. We also offer them for squirt and peewee-age players.
“We get a lot of cross-over players who play deck hockey or roller hockey who want to play ice hockey but we have to get them acclimated.”
Another aspect of the Penguins that has grown in popularity over the years is the Cuesta-Thomas Tournament. Now in its 46th year, the tournament was founded by two members of The Hill School faculty and caters primarily to teams from the Mid-Atlantic region. It features four-team competitions at the mite, squirt, peewee and midget levels.
There are a number of factors why the tournament has been so successful, Moyer said.
“No. 1, our organization is a 100-percent volunteer organization,” he said. “The tournament is run by the parents for the kids. We work really hard to make sure every team wants to come back."
“We also try to make it a competitive tournament all the way around. We work with teams that are of the same caliber. A lot of the games are one- or two-goal differentials. Blowouts do happen, but that’s uncommon.”
Another reason why teams want to play in the tournament is the rink at The Hill School.
“The accommodations at the rink are spectacular,” Moyer said. “Prior to 2002, the tournament was held outside, and then it was moved inside when the new rink was built. It has some of the best ice surfaces you’ll play on in this area.”
There’s one more inducement.
Championship teams have their name as well, as the names of the players and coaches, engraved on a cup, which is similar in nature to NHL teams that capture the Stanley Cup.
“We only started that a couple of years ago,” Moyer said. “It was a new feature we decided to provide. When the names are added, the kids think it’s neat.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.