Georgia’s Ice Forum Hockey Association (IHA) consists of multiple levels designed to develop player skills.
The IHA has a Tier II program known as the Atlanta Phoenix that consists of a learn-to-skate program plus an extensive house league that serves as a feeder program for the Phoenix travel teams at the A, B and AA levels.
Thunder Hockey is a Tier I AAA program for boys 11 through 18U. It includes players from cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Knoxville and Huntsville and holds training camp-style “high-performance weekends” during the season.
The IHA House League consists of nearly 40 teams from 8U through 18U.
“How we connect them to our travel program is we create a house league All-Star team,” said Director of Hockey and former New York Islander Yan Kaminsky. “This team is selected from the best house league players and is given the opportunity to play against our travel A and B teams, plus in two or three tournaments during the season without conflict with the house league.”
With a 2-to-1 practice-to-game ratio, equal ice time and USA Hockey certified coaches, the house league is designed to develop strong skills and habits that will help boys enjoy hockey and enable them to move to the next level.
In addition, players are afforded the freedom to develop creativity and confidence in an environment where they will come to understand the basic flow of the sport.
At the Tier I level, the premise for Thunder Hockey is simple.
“It’s a seven-state affiliate in the south,” Kaminsky said. “We don’t have what they have in New York and Michigan. We can’t select one team from just one city.
“The key is what the program focuses on. We base our program on USA Hockey’s American Development Model. We ask our coaches to do a lot of clinics and we give them all the tools to coach our teams. Our knowledge comes from USA Hockey. Our coaches are certified and went through USA Hockey’s training modules.”
Kaminsky, who serves as the Thunder’s head coach of development, noted that the concentration is on skill development.
“We make sure all of our players have a lot of fun, especially at the younger levels,” Kaminsky said. “We focus on skill development moreso than results. If they’re playing well, winning will come.”
The high-performance weekends have proven to be a major benefit for players throughout the south.
“We use it because of the structure of the program with kids from different cities,” Kaminsky said. “We have kids from 11 to 13 and 14 to 16 skating together in each city during the week. As a team, they get together on weekends. All the kids drive or fly in and work as a team and have anywhere from four to five practices on a weekend.
“They also have on-ice and off-ice sessions plus video sessions. We try to schedule the HPW in different cities so, for example, Nashville people don’t always have to travel long distances. We spread it out during the season.”
Kaminsky left no doubt about his opinion of USA Hockey’s ADM.
“I think that’s the best thing USA Hockey has done for small associations like ours,” he said. “The ADM was created by USA Hockey for the purpose of long-term development for youth in the United States. The concentration is on fun, learning fundamentals at a young age and learning good habits.”
“We focus on efficient utilization of ice which involves station-based practices with kids working on multiple hockey skills without wasting time waiting in line. I think that’s huge.”
Kaminksy noted that the IHA implemented the ADM seven years ago before it became official.
“Our program was created on the same concept,” he said. “Then, it was easy to present to the kids. The kids have smiles on their faces. The problem was with some of the parents.”
But with time, effort and results, Kaminsky helped show them the benefits.
“We held seminars with parents,” he said. “Our coaches are trained to give parents information before the season. The concept speaks for itself.
“Parents see the improvement in their children; they see them becoming more confident and better skaters, and they also see better skill development.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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