While some organizations have had trouble attracting new players, that’s not the case with the Superior (Wisconsin) Youth Hockey Association.
Just ask President Brian Raygor.
“Last year we expanded,” Raygor said. “For a long period of time, we stayed the same, but in recent years we’ve grown. This season, about 300 boys have registered.”
That number is spread over 15 teams, from termites to Junior Gold B.
Raygor didn’t hesitate when asked why the northwestern Wisconsin association has increased registrations.
“We hold multiple learn-to-skate programs during the course of the year,” he said. “They’ve been very successful. Typically, we see 30 new skaters come to learn-to-skate sessions. And we offer free hockey for the first year.
“Our termite program continues to grow each year. We had approximately 50 termites [boys aged 3 to 7] last year.”
Furthermore, Chris Stenberg, a local Play It Again Sports owner and the rink’s hockey director, provides first-year players up to 8 years old with starter equipment free of charge.
“Kids can show up with nothing, but they can go out and try to skate,” Raygor said. “Overall, we make it very cost effective to start.”
The Superior YHA has also developed close ties with the Superior High School hockey program.
“Our organization is 100 percent a feeder program for Superior High, so much so that the head coach [Jason Kallin] helps run (our) practices,” Raygor said. “He’s involved with our organization as much as his time allows.”
Kallin introduced a player-of-the-game program in which a Superior YHA coach nominates an 8U or 10U player to be the Player of the Game at a high school game.
On a given night, an entire youth team attends the high school game free of charge, and the players are invited into the locker room to meet their high school counterparts. The Player of the Game gets to skate out with the varsity team and be introduced alongside them.
“It’s a tradition and an honor to play for the high school team,” Raygor said. “Not every kid will be able to, but a lot of kids strive for it. They look up to the high school players. A lot of parents in our organization played for the high school. We have a long tradition.”
The Superior YHA has also relied on USA Hockey’s American Development Model to help increase its membership.
“For most of our kids, that’s all they know,” Raygor said. “We were using ADM principles for many years, even though it might not have been called ADM at the time. This is all our termites, mites and squirts know.
“It’s become so common that it’s second nature to our players. They know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ve learned so many new skills because of all the ADM drills we do.”
Superior’s Squirt Hybrid Development Program, which also integrates cross-ice play, has also proven beneficial for the association.
“We cancelled two-week tryouts and made them two months,” explained Raygor. “During that time, kids split up and make four teams. They practice as a team and play in the Superior Cup Tournament.
“After that, our A coaches watch these players and evaluate them on a daily basis.”
The A team coaches are non-parents and are in charge of running practices.
“After two months, the A-team coaches pick kids and invite them to play on the A team,” Raygor said. “The three remaining [squirt] teams are re-evaluated and split into three equal B teams.
“The program has been so successful that I’ve had other organizations call me and ask why it’s so successful. Overall, everything we do is 100 percent ADM.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.