The St. Albans Skating Association has become one of the more prominent youth hockey associations in Vermont in large part due to its efforts at the ground level.
Chief among those efforts is the SASA’s Young Blades program.
“Without it, we wouldn’t survive,” former president Mark Deso said. “We’ve had Young Blades since our inception, which was the early 1970s.”
The Young Blades program has two levels. Children in Young Blades 1 learn hockey on crates and don’t have sticks in their hands. Children in Young Blades 2 learn to skate with a stick in their hands and how to handle a puck.
“On average, we have about 125 to 130 kids participate,” Deso said. “It absolutely is the foundation for our association. It’s a major reason why more kids are trying the sport.”
Next on that list of reasons might be a tie between USA Hockey’s OneGoal equipment program and the American Development Model.
“We’ve adopted USA Hockey’s OneGoal equipment program,” Deso said. “Associations can purchase small and large equipment for 5- to 8-year-old kids. They created a package that includes everything but a stick and skates."
“We have about 80 to 100 sets that we give out to people who want to try our program. We hold a one-day, try-on-the-equipment event. They’re allowed to keep it for the whole year, free of charge, and then return it at the end of the year. Maybe trying it for a year or two will get the kids hooked on the sport.”
Once children in the SASA get “hooked” on hockey, they’re introduced to the ADM. Deso said the association’s coaches have embraced the ADM and conveyed the age-appropriate training philosophies to the parents.
“Our coaches really have learned the benefits of the ADM,” said Deso.
In addition to implementing the age-appropriate, age-specific ADM training plans for its players, the SASA also has several YouTube videos posted on its website that show various aspects of the model.
“[The ADM] was brought in by USA Hockey to encourage more skill development,” Deso said. “We definitely bought into the program and still use it.
“It definitely is showing potential for skill development — how to shoot, puck-handling skills, skating techniques, sticking more with skill development rather than game breakouts, which will come on an erase board during games.”
SASA players also are eligible for the Beth Casavant Athletic Scholarship fund, which was established in March 2012.
“It was established in memory of a woman who did a lot for the organization, especially the Young Blades,” Deso said. “She was a strong advocate for children in sports. She helped raise money for equipment and for the Young Blades. Women and friends of hers established the fund in her name.”
Scholarships are awarded each year to 10 Franklin County youths and are available to any child from mite to midget who’s in need of equipment.
“With Beth’s help, people began donating used equipment from other families and give it to the Young Blades and older kids who want to try hockey for free,” Deso said. “She also did a lot in terms of scheduling and getting players on the ice.”
Because the SASA is now in its fifth decade of operation, it’s become a family tradition.
“We have a mechanism in place to ensure our future, to ensure that your children’s children can experience the joy of scoring a goal, recording a shutout, making new friends, experiencing competition and just having fun,” Deso said. “Remember, the first members of the association are now watching their grandchildren learn to skate and play hockey."
“Who are they? Look in the stands at a youth hockey game and see the smiles.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.