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Hawkins Steers Course for Kalkaska Area Hockey Association

By Mike Scandura - Special to USA Hockey, 10/06/16, 9:00AM MDT

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Vice president has overseen growth through partnerships and raising awareness

As part of USA Hockey's 80th Anniversary, we will shine a spotlight on the countless volunteers and instructors who spend time "Behind the Glass" to help our sport grow.

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Matt Hawkins never played hockey beyond the 12U level. But a love of the game and desire to help it grow is what led him to his current role as the vice president of the Kalkaska Area Hockey Association.

When Hawkins joined KAHA in 2010, the Michigan-based association was in looking to change directions.

“Coming in from not having played hockey since I was a young kid, I jumped on the board because they were struggling,” said Hawkins. “The association was on probation because we didn’t have enough teams.

“This will be the first year when we won’t have to pull up younger players to the 10U or 12U levels to ensure we have a team. Because we continue to build the association the coaches can play kids at their proper age levels.”

Hawkins played a major role in KAHA forming a partnership with the Kalkaska Rhinos Junior Hockey Club that plays in the United States Premier Hockey League.

“We looked at it as a way to grow our hockey program,” said Hawkins. “Over the last few years we’ve struggled to build older level teams but we continued to focus on teams at the bottom, at the 8U level. Eventually we’d have enough for 10U and 12U.

“Then the struggle was we built the 12U team but struggled to have the 14U team. Kids ended up leaving for other associations because we did not have enough players to form a team.”

As a result, KAHA and Junior Rhinos General Manager/Head Coach Krzysztof Oliwa (who played on the 2000 Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils) put their heads together and decided to form a partnership.

“What prompted me to do this was the continued support from the Rhinos and the vision and goal that we could offer an introductory program through junior level hockey,” said Hawkins. “The Rhinos could pull players onto the junior team. For our youth, it gives them a vision of where they can take their hockey careers.

“We look at this as a great opportunity to establish a better foundation for youth hockey in Kalkaska. We’ve already seen the benefits of the Junior Rhinos helping us with practices and creating player excitement at the youth levels.”

Among other things, the Junior Rhinos have helped KAHA offer try-hockey-for-free sessions and spread the word to the community.

“More youth in Kalkaska are becoming interested in hockey because the Rhinos have actually gone to the community schools and worked with the students and read to them in class,” said Hawkins. “We have a great outreach program with the local elementary schools.

“That’s resulted in the students coming to the rink and skating with the players as well as coming to games to support us and learn the game of hockey.”

Hawkins’ reason for joining KAHA even though he had minimal hockey playing experience was due in large part to his sons’ interest in the sport.

“I joined KAHA as a member in 2010 because I wanted to sign up my oldest son [John] for an introductory program,” he said. “Because I played hockey as a young kid I wanted to get my kids involved. I got my oldest involved and he started to skate and liked it. I now have four kids in the KAHA program.

“After the first year he played, the board had some openings and was hurting for some help. I decided to join the board and as vice president and see what I could do to help. I felt I had the ability to leverage what USA Hockey and MAHA [Michigan Amateur Hockey Association] provided us to get kids engaged.”

Due in large part to this partnership, that’s exactly what’s happened.

“The key things are being able to grow the number of kids that we have involved in hockey every year,” said Hawkins. “Every year we’ve continued to grow and build from the bottom up.

“When we talk about building the program the focus is on the American Development Model. It’s being able to learn about what’s available and take advantage of the tools and methodology provided by USA Hockey.”

Also because of Hawkins’ endeavors, KAHA was able to add a girls’ program.

“We’ve been able to build a girls’ program which is now in a third season,” he said. “The key thing here is typically you start to lose girls as they get older.

“If they wanted to play girls-only hockey they could. Our focus in this third season is to build from the bottom up.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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