Hockey’s growth in California can be found wherever you look.
You can see it in the 26,383 players in California during the 2014-15 season, a total that increased 57.4 percent in the last decade. Or there are the 10,983 youth players, which is up 19.3 percent in the last decade.
There were 11 California-born players in the NHL last season. There were 50 California-born players playing NCAA Division I hockey last season. And in 2015, the American Hockey League created a Pacific division, comprised mostly of new California teams.
Another display of that growth recently occurred when outdoor hockey was brought to an outdoor rink at Raley Field in Sacramento. The main event was an AHL outdoor game, but the ice was also shared with the community and California youth hockey associations throughout the last month.
“I’ve been running tournaments for 15 years, and I’ve never gotten more positive feedback than from this event,” California Amateur Hockey Association chairperson Laura Cahn said. “The kids had an amazing time. They went out of their way to thank me. Something like this in California, they never thought it was possible. To provide that to them, it was very special to see it come to life.”
California Amateur Hockey Association president Steve Laing received similar feedback. He couldn’t remember an event where everyone from the kids to the coaches to the parents were all so content. He compared watching the kids play outdoor hockey to seeing them make snow angels – both bring a smile to everyone’s face.
On top of giving youth players an opportunity to play outdoors — an estimated 500-600 youth players participated in the various tournaments — Laing also saw another major sign that California hockey is heading in the right direction. That sign was the 8U outdoor tournament, which was played in a half-ice format, something parents have come to appreciate.
"Mite was strictly half-ice," Laing said. "Everyone came in knowing it. We certainly had players wanting to be participants and be a part of that.
“It was important to me, being an affiliate president and a person who supported ADM from the beginning [to include the smaller-ice play]. It gave so much credibility to the reasons we do what we do and to the number of touches, kids playing the pucks, no one-on-zero breakaways. The appearance of the parents watching the game on the ice, that told me pushing for it and making it happen was worth it. We did all the right things for the right reasons and we stuck to our guts.”
Larry Cahn was the half-ice event coordinator for the 8U tournament, which included nine California teams that each played six games. He also thought the presence of small-ice philosophies was important to include in the outdoor event.
“We’re big supporters of the ADM,” Larry said. “USA Hockey is going in a good direction with it. It’s a different culture now, because the new kids coming into the game, they’re all accepting of it. When we introduced it, you had the old-school Canadian parents who played full ice. Now, we don’t run into any resistance in northwest California.”
Larry was hopeful the outdoor event may also entice newcomers to the game.
“We’re always going to compete with the big boys,” Larry said. “You got basketball, baseball, football, soccer. Those are the sports we compete against. It being so sunny and good weather, moms and fathers, moms definitely, want to be watching soccer outdoors because it’s warm. We all have to fight.
“The bottom line is once we get them introduced to the game they’re a hockey player for life. The more kids we can expose the better.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.