When the Vail Mountaineers take the ice, there’s no question who they represent.
That’s because the association emphasizes a sense of community that’s bigger than hockey.
For example, every Memorial Day, Mountaineer kids place flags on graves of veterans. The nearby Camp Hale in northwest Colorado was where members of the 10th Mountain Division trained. The 10th was ordered to Italy in 1945 to spearhead an advance of the U.S. Army.
“There’s a military history in our community,” said John Seymour, Vail Mountaineers hockey director. “It’s important for our kids to learn the history of our community and get involved in community activities other than hockey — to get our kids prepared for things other than hockey in life."
“If we treat every kid as [only] a hockey player, we’re not going to learn about the person. We need to use our sport to build great citizens in our community, because there is a child inside that athlete.”
That emphasis on community has been key to the program’s success and why kids want to become Mountaineers.
“We also hold a super heroes game where local people dress as super heroes. We hold a free hockey clinic after the game. We have a great community, which is why our program is successful. When you have a good product, parents want their kids to become involved.”
Mountaineer coaches and administrators also are concerned about the health of their players.
“We do a hip study every year,” Seymour said. “In a medical journal, we learned about how hockey affects hips."
“Hopefully it helps prevent people from getting injured in the future.”
The Mountaineers boast nine teams this season ranging from 10U rec, 12U through a pre-high school 16U team.
“Our program has grown in the last three years,” Seymour said. “I built a recreational program that allowed the multi-sport athlete in our town to play hockey. We skate one day a week and then schedule jamborees around ski racing."
“We go to other communities and do it on Sundays. We throw pucks on the ice and play pond hockey. The rec program has different ages and then kids go into the travel program.”
The reason for this format is clear to Seymour.
“The ski racer cannot play hockey every weekend,” he said. “I give them one day a week. They caught the hockey bug and joined our program. We reached out to the multi-sport athlete and that’s how we grow our numbers."
“We built a rec program in Vail and expanded it into communities around us by giving a flexible way to play hockey. We also do a lot of fundraising. We subsidize 40 percent of our players’ fees. The people in the valley feel like they’re getting good value.”
That value comes from learning the principles of fair play, respect and sportsmanship, along with an emphasis on fun, life skills, plus the development of character and the individual potential of hockey players in a safe and healthy environment.
“It’s what I’m all about as a hockey director,” Seymour said. “That’s our motto. We have a questionnaire that parents, players and coaches fill out as a matter of learning what their expectations are about."
“It makes for a better unit instead of fighting about what everybody wants. This makes it easier to work toward a united goal.”
Another reason why the Mountaineers continue to draw players is the fact that the association embraced USA Hockey’s American Development Model — a concept about which Seymour is extremely knowledgeable.
“Nine years ago, I was interviewed about how I built the ADM in Denver [with the Foothill Flyers],” Seymour said. “It was right around the time when the ADM was starting. I believe 100 percent in the ADM and station-based training."
“If you have a good product and parents see results, they’ll see we’re developing good players and kids are having a blast playing hockey.”
Seymour was quick to admit that the ADM was an “easy sell.”
“The program sold itself,” he said.
“As soon as I got here the program turned. Our numbers grew and tryouts we had this year we’re the most competitive we’ve ever had. The skill level has grown to the point where it’s hard to differentiate.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.