For Rick Hutchinson, the honor was a validation of the approach he’s been taking for two decades.
When the Jr. Ducks, Lady Ducks and The Rinks were designated this summer as a USA Hockey Model Association, it confirmed that the Anaheim Amateur Hockey Association, under the umbrella of the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks, had been doing things the right way.
The Ducks’ associations are the 21st youth hockey program to be so honored, and it essentially means they have committed to implementing age-appropriate, age-specific skill development in accordance with USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“It makes us all extremely proud,” said Hutchinson, The Rinks hockey director. “I’ve been working with the Ducks and their youth development program for 20 years, and to get this validation from USA Hockey is a great feeling for all aspects of our business. From our learn-to-play grassroots hockey all the way up to the Jr. Ducks, it really lets us know that what we’ve been doing has been working. USA Hockey was out here for a few days, watching us and meeting with us and meeting with parents, emphasizing the model association requirements and what we’ve done to accomplish that. So it’s really a great feeling.”
The sprawling operation includes grassroots hockey programs at four ice rinks in the area, as well as three inline skating rinks. There are separate travel hockey associations for boys (the Jr. Ducks) and girls (the Lady Ducks), and all have been utilizing development methods recommended in the ADM since before the ADM was formalized.
“It’s nice for us, because it’s kind of what we’ve always done,” Hutchinson said. “Of course, things have adjusted and changed all the time, but that model of station-based training and an emphasis on skill development is something that, when I came on board, and what the coaches before me were doing, that’s kind of how we trained anyway. It was a natural progression, so when the ADM rolled out, we were like, ‘That’s great, that makes sense, it’s very similar to what we’re doing,’ so it was just an easy transition.”
Part of the youth association’s success can be attributed to their massive grassroots effort to grow hockey in Southern California, which starts with The Rinks’ impressive learn-to-play and Hockey Initiation programs. Those are aided significantly by the generous donations of longtime Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
“Something we started a few years back is try-hockey-for-free. Kids come out and they play for free for four weeks,” Hutchinson explained. “I know USA Hockey does this twice a year, but we do it every week. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have agreed to a program where, if you come out and try hockey for free, and then you decide to register and play in any program we offer, they give you a voucher for free gear, including skates — everything. It’s unheard of in the industry.
“We do that at all of our buildings, roller and ice, and we have between 30 and 70 students every week doing that, with about six buildings, so that’s our base. And then we have the next step in the progression, hockey initiation, which is our beginner program, then hockey skills, and I have that running in four ice buildings and we have between 45 and 70 kids in that weekly, so that’s a huge number. And the next step up from that would be our rec in-house program, and last season, I had just a little over 50 teams in rec hockey.”
It’s all part of the pyramid of youth hockey, and the Ducks have perfected the pipeline of feeding kids up through the different stages of development, from ages 5-18.
“The Rinks is really the foundation of everything,” Hutchinson said. “If you’re building a pyramid, The Rinks is at the bottom of it and is the biggest part of the operation. It’s where we introduce new players to hockey and we train them and develop them and all their skills, and then as they move up, let’s say they move from a free learn-to-play session and then they move into hockey initiation, and then in-house hockey, and then into travel with the Jr. Ducks or Lady Ducks, and then we also have the high school program as well under the Ducks’ umbrella. That’s kind of the make-up.”
The Jr. Ducks currently ice 34 teams at different age groups and the Lady Ducks have 11, and that’s not including the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, which will include 49 teams from 33 schools in its eighth season of operation.
Hutchinson believes running a successful youth hockey operation depends upon keeping the game fun and making sure the players, at all ages and stages of development, are being fully engaged, among other objectives.
“In this day and age, there’s a lot of pressure. It’s a competitive business. It’s an expensive business. But we always fall back to what makes kids fall in love with this game,” he said. “And for me, it’s about fun and building relationships and the social aspects and about being part of a team, coming to the rink and getting excited, and having those little milestones of success. To me, that’s essential. That’s how you build children up to what their potential will allow, especially at the younger ages.
“This is what I really like about the science aspect of the ADM, what USA Hockey has researched — they really take time to look at how children develop, not only physically, but mentally, and their limitations, and what you should be teaching. I think USA Hockey, in general, has said, ‘Hey, what can we do to make our program constantly improve?’ And that takes some strong leadership. And we’re proud to be associated with that and included with that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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