Any mention of sports and the state of Texas immediately conjures up visions of football, but the Dallas Stars Elite girls hockey program is on track to create a different perception, with a boost from the city’s National Hockey League team.
“There is a growing hockey base [in Dallas],” said Steve Martinson, girls program director. “And we expect an increase in the number of girls signing up in part because the [Dallas] Stars have an entertaining team. If the Stars play well, more people become interested in hockey. The Stars are interested in growing the fan base. New kids are signing up for house leagues and then learn-to-skate [programs]. When NHL teams do well, you get more kids to play.”
The Stars Elite are definitely on that trajectory, especially at younger age classifications. This season, the program offered a 12U team for the first time, and 20 girls competed for a spot on that team, which was encouraging.
The opportunity to play on an all-girls team was a major factor in the Stars adding another team.
“We had a lot of girls playing with boys,” said Martinson. “My daughter played with boys. There are pros and cons. What we like about getting girls at a young age is we have the opportunity to develop the right work ethic and a proper understanding the game and how to play it.
“One of the reasons why we formed a 12U team was to teach these young players how to skate properly and learn how to stickhandle properly. That’s in addition to developing good habits. In the long run, it helps the girls.”
Holding try-hockey-for-free days also helped boost the program’s numbers sufficiently to add another team.
“Because we’re a girls organization, we invited girls who were playing around the Dallas area,” said Martinson. “We get them out to skate with us. They develop a camaraderie that they don’t get with boys. Now, my daughter won’t switch back.
“We also have a couple of female coaches who were college players. That helps because girls can look up to them. It gives them something to which they can aspire.
And when it comes to aspirations, the Stars program has a clear vision.
“We’re trying to get girls into a high school league, and then to college,” said Martinson. “What I say to people is I want to give our kids the best chance to play college hockey. We’re trying to get everybody to develop to their fullest potential, whether it’s high school or college.”
One of many ways the Stars help players reach that full potential is by offering a spring training program run by power-skating specialist Luke Chilcott.
Under Chilcott, on-ice sessions include emphasis on individual skills like passing, stickhandling and shooting. They also conduct concept sessions geared toward helping players make better decisions with and without the puck.
“To play beyond high school, you have to skate,” said Martinson. “Luke can improve our players. The earlier you learn how to skate properly, the better you’re going to be in the long run.
“What we don’t have in Dallas is a lot of families who’ve played hockey, so having somebody like Luke, who can teach how to skate properly, is great. The longer you go with bad habits, the harder they are to correct.”
Martinson is adamant that proper skill development should be at the forefront of the organization.
“The way I explain it to our coaches is, if a kid doesn’t get better and develop, the parents won’t be pleased,” he said. “So it’s imperative that we’re teaching and helping the players develop proper skills. And to do that, it’s also critical that they play with the puck and make plays."
“A lot of parents get caught up on the idea that their kids need to play on the so-called ‘better’ teams. But the best thing for them is to have their kids on a team where they’re getting quality playing time in all situations and carrying the puck. And you have to be especially careful with younger kids. It’s a tough balance. Obviously you don’t want kids to do the same things wrong over and over.”
Utilizing USA Hockey’s American Development Model is one way to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“We use multiple stations in practice where you’re playing small-area games,” said Martinson. “Kids like that. I love small-area games where you’re in tight and have to work on your puck skills. You want kids to have a lot of touches in practices. And if you have enough stations, you don’t have kids standing around.”
Keeping players engaged is a key to successful development in any program, but especially in places like Texas, where hockey isn’t necessarily in families’ DNA. With the combination of engagement and proper skill development – along with a little help from the local NHL club – the Stars Elite program appears to be on the rise.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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