The North Star State celebrates hockey and its community-based model each year as part of Hockey Day Minnesota – and with good reason.
No state has more players currently on NHL and NCAA Division I rosters.
No state has more female players.
No state has more 8-and-under players.
And, in an era when more states are producing elite hockey players than ever before, the Minnesota influence is increasing too. The total number of Minnesotans on NCAA Division I men’s hockey rosters climbed 11 percent in the past three seasons, according to College Hockey Inc.
This year’s Hockey Day celebration is slated for Saturday in Duluth, on the shores of Lake Superior, where four high school teams will clash on an outdoor rink at Bayfront Festival Park. The festivities will also include sled hockey games, 8U games, 12U games and adult games capped by a Minnesota Wild viewing party.
It’ll be a grand gala in a town renowned for its hockey.
But even Duluth wasn’t immune to the challenges facing its favorite sport. Brady Slater of the Duluth News Tribune explored those obstacles – and how Duluth is overcoming them – in a recent lead-up story to Hockey Day Minnesota.
According to the DNT:
Youth hockey registration numbers that 20 years ago regularly topped 1,000 players in the city had dipped to a four-year average of 703 between 2009 and 2012. With its numbers declining, the Duluth Amateur Hockey Association (DAHA) made a dramatic and controversial change. It did away with its elite traveling program for 9- and 10-year-olds. No longer would its best players be culled from the herd so soon. “We were earmarking kids way too early,” said Clarke Coole, the recently retired executive director of DAHA. “We were taking better-skilled players and leaving the others behind.”
As a result of the change, Duluth’s 10U players simply continue developing with their neighborhood teams, rather than chasing development all over the state and beyond.
Prior to the shift in approach, DAHA was “losing upwards of 40 percent of players any given year in the transition from squirts to peewees.” After eliminating the 10U travel program, that trend reversed – and them some. According to DAHA, its four-year average in the age group is now up 6 percent, and in 2015-16, its 10U-to-12U retention rate was 87 percent – or roughly double what it was prior to the change.
DAHA, and its neighbor to the south, the Cloquet Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), also adopted USA Hockey’s American Development Model, which further strengthened skill development and player retention
According to the DNT:
“It was a highly debated and very emotional decision,” said Mick Maslowski, president of CAHA. “But the (American Development Model) isn’t someone’s opinion. It’s science-based fact about long-term athlete development, and we needed to listen.” Since its change, Cloquet has seen retention rates jump at the post-squirt levels of peewee and bantam (ages 13-14). “It is difficult sometimes for adults to put the competitive juices aside and just focus on helping the kids improve their skills,” Maslowski said. “We haven’t been perfect in implementing ADM, but our numbers tell us we are headed in the right direction.”
Navigating the Sea Change
Ultimately, it’s about taking the long-term view of athlete development, especially in a late-specialization sport like hockey. It’s about shedding unproven beliefs, like the perceived lock-step correlation between being so-called elite at 9 years old and truly elite at 18. And it’s about positioning kids to reach their full long-term potential, rather than positioning them to be an “elite” 10-year-old.
By keeping more kids in the game longer, and by committing to age-appropriate training and competition, American hockey rises.
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