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Proud to be Young Americans

11/24/2015, 10:45am MST
By Mike Scandura - Special to USAHockey.com

Chicago girls association preaches education, community and hockey

A year ago, each of the Chicago Young Americans Tier I teams qualified for USA Hockey’s National Championships.

The 16U team earned the silver medal and the 14U team earned bronze.

But when these girls aren’t busy competing for championships, they’re giving back to the community.

For example, this season the Young Americans are holding their first alumni game on December 23. Admission is free, but everybody who attends the game must bring a canned good that will be donated to a homeless shelter.

And they continue to raise money for a variety of causes like Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy Awareness (CURE), Ewings Sarcoma Cancer research and breast cancer awareness.

“The effort is unbelievable in all of our charitable endeavors,” said girls’ director John Cimba. “Our teams are adamant about giving back to the community.

“Amilia Murray, a goalie on our 19U team, is the backbone for CURE. She’s been doing this since she was very young.

“November is the month for epilepsy awareness and the color is purple,” added Cimba. “Amilia has purple all over her equipment.”

As if on-ice success and charitable giving isn’t enough, Young Americans players also work hard in the classroom.

“We focus on the importance of academics and learning life lessons from this game,” Cimba said.

A year ago, 42 girls were recognized as High Performance Hockey League Academic Award winners, meaning a GPA of 3.5/3.8 and above.

“At our year-end banquet we recognize those girls,” Cimba said. “We view this great game as a pathway to academic opportunities.”

As a result, several Young Americans alumni have gone on to attend Ivy League universities and NESCAC schools like Amherst, Middlebury, Trinity, Wesleyan and Williams – all of which have high academic standards.

There is at least one female coach on each Young Americans team, many of whom are former NCAA players or coaches.

One, for example, is Sanya Sandahl, who last July was the goalie coach at USA Hockey’s  Girls’ U18 Player Development Camp at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

“We’re trying to develop incredibly strong young women by the time they leave our program,” Cimba said. “To have strong female role models is a big part of that. We have one on every bench.

“It’s something we really strive for. Last year, we graduated 13 players to the NCAA level. Out of that group, it’s amazing how many have said they want to come back and coach with CYA. We preach that heavily. We want our U19s giving back to the local communities from where they came. It’s a huge gesture on their part.”

Having Sandahl and Skills Director Bud Simon affiliated with the Young Americans is a “huge” plus.

“Sanya was at the USA Hockey National Camp,” Cimba said. “I believe she’s the best goalie coach out there, outside of college.

“Bud is unbelievable with skills. He also coaches our 12U team. It’s a very young team. Recently they won the Fire and Ice Tournament in Rochester [New York] and the Bauer International Invite in Detroit.”

Part of Cimba’s philosophy about girls’ hockey is geared toward ensuring their long-term interest in the sport.

“Based on how our state is structured, I’m a big believer in community-based, grassroots hockey,” he said. “6, 7 and 8-year-olds should not be driving over an hour to play.

“In my opinion it’s a sure-fire way to turn off girls from playing hockey.”

Cimba and his associates realized long ago that another way to ensure a growing sport was to implement USA Hockey’s American Development Model.

“We have integrated the long-term development model,” he said. “We were very aware that girls at the younger levels were sensitive to the practice-to-game ratios that are important. We talk about cross-ice play. From 19U down, every team at every practice incorporates some form of small-area games.

“We’re trying to grow the game. I do believe that Tier I teams should get involved in helping at those younger levels.”

Moreover, once girls “graduate” from the Young Americans, they’re not forgotten.

“Every year my 12Us and 14Us get together and design good-luck posters, stickers and photos where the theme is ‘Good luck on your college careers,’” Cimba said. “Our alumni will send us back photos of those posters hanging in their dorm rooms.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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