Dallas Kuntz had been away from youth hockey for about six years when he decided to return and coach at Dickinson Hockey Club in North Dakota.
He assumed that he would teach the game the same way it was taught to him nearly 30 years prior, but what he discovered was a new methodology that took some time for him to embrace.
Dickinson Hockey Club had implemented USA Hockey’s American Development Model. Kuntz was unfamiliar with it.
“I wasn’t sold on it right away,” said Kuntz, who has been with the club the last eight years. “It took awhile not only for myself, but for all the club members. There was some resistance; parents thinking, ‘How are we going to develop players if you’re confining them to one little corner of the ice?’”
Today, Kuntz has a whole different viewpoint. He is now the club’s hockey coordinator and an ADM advocate.
“The light comes on in your head, and it’s amazing when the light comes on,” said Kuntz. “It probably took me two years to fully realize why we’re doing it. Now, I don’t see how we did it any other way.”
That forward-thinking mentality began with Dickinson’s last hockey coordinator and has continued to grow with Kuntz. Dickinson aligned itself with the ADM and has seen plenty of positive results.
“Working with USA Hockey and learning about all the tools that there are, we’ve basically hit the ground running with it,” Kuntz said. “Our numbers were probably around 220 kids over the last four years, and now we’re over 300. With the ADM, we’re getting 40 kids on the ice, setting dividers up, doing cross-ice, small-area games – and that’s a big reason for the growth. The kids aren’t getting bored. It’s constantly challenging for them with the small-area games. It’s what our club is based on now.”
Dickinson utilizes those ADM philosophies in a variety of ways. The club hosts 8U and 10U jamborees with 16 teams throughout the region taking part. Each team plays 4-5 cross-ice games each day. They also use different formats, including putting nets in the corners, to keep things fresh.
“We think it’s important,” Kuntz said. “We’ve totally embraced it. If we’re going to continue to develop kids and keep them choosing our sport instead of other winter sports, if we want to keep them interested, this is the way to go about it.”
Kuntz has seen especially rapid growth in girls hockey. The club has gone from 20-25 girls five years ago to approximately 60 girls now.
Dickinson has also benefitted from offering try-hockey-for-free opportunities for children. The club had 80 kids show up for a free session this past year and close to 40 of them registered to continue.
Kuntz credited the increased numbers to the ADM.
“If they’re doing full-ice, skating up and down, they won’t all be as engaged; they’re going to get frustrated,” he said. “If they’re confined to smaller areas, they’ll fall down, get back up and get right back into the play. For parents, it’s definitely encouraging.”
Dickinson also participates in USA Hockey’s 2 and 2 Challenge, which sets a goal of adding two players and keeping two more players from the previous season’s total.
“It’s a great program for us,” Kuntz said. “It gives you the template. This is how you can improve the quality. We’ll do whatever we can to get them in and take a look at how great the game is. The 2 and 2 Challenge thinks of creative ways to get people into the rink. Once they put the skates on and get on the ice, they’re probably going to get hooked. How do we get them in the door?
“It’s no secret, there’s not a lot to do in North Dakota during the winter. Why not come spend the weekend at the rink playing hockey?”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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