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Back Home to Help Grow Hockey

By Greg Bates - Special to USA Hockey, 01/25/17, 2:00PM MST

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Dallas Kuntz is helping grow the game in his North Dakota hometown

When Dallas Kuntz returned home after college, working at his family’s construction company was the only thing in his plans. Hockey wasn’t on the forefront of his mind.

But it didn’t take the 2001 Dickinson (North Dakota) High School graduate much time to get back on the ice. Now, Kuntz is fully engulfed in hockey as the Dickinson Hockey Club director as well as varsity boys head coach.

“If you would have said five years ago that I would be the hockey director at Dickinson Hockey Club, I would have told you you were crazy,” Kuntz said.

The 34-year-old got involved in the program in 2007-08, serving as an assistant 14U coach for two years and then as head coach for four years. Kuntz took over the varsity head job in 2013-14 and the following year, after being the vice president of the hockey board, became the director.

“When I took this director position, the main condition was I would not give up the high school position — I felt so strong about that,” Kuntz said. “My hockey board here was very accommodating on that.”

Kuntz finds it rewarding to hold both positions and have such a large impact on the program.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to work with the youth and try to build the program from the ground up,” Kuntz said. “I think it’s important for that high school varsity coach to be involved in your youth program. My high school boys, there’s a lot being asked of them. They come out with the little 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds for our learn-to-play-hockey program. It’s put me in a position where I’m able to use that high school hockey coaching position in a positive way with the youth program.”

Since Kuntz took over as director of the Dickinson Hockey Club, the program has jumped from about 270 members to around 350. Growing the organization at each level is one of Kuntz’s major goals.

This year marks the first time the program has fielded three 12U teams. There were about 25 players at that level a couple years ago and Kuntz was instrumental in having that number balloon to 38 this year.

“We’ve always struggled to retain our numbers at the high school level, I think that goes back to squirt age on retaining kids,” Kuntz said. “That’s where the American Development Model has helped us in the fact that we’re so concentrated on skill development, but also it’s got to be fun for these kids.”

Working with the 14U players when he first started coaching really opened up Kuntz’s eyes to what the program could do moving forward to try and create a culture with continuity from level to level. Kuntz makes it a point to swing by one or two practices per week at every age group to make his presence felt, helping the skaters and offering assistance to the coaches.

“It’s not like in some bigger cities where the youth kids don’t know their high school coach or never meet them until they actually go try out for the team,” Kuntz said. “There’s an expectation level set there from a young age that these kids are familiar with and I think that’s a huge positive.”

Of course, there is an administrative side to the hockey director position — scheduling, hiring referees, scheduling referees and much more. But it’s the hands-on approach that Kuntz loves.

He figures he logs about 75-80 hours per week at the rink during the winter months. His slow days are six to seven hours on Sundays.

“For as many hours as I put in, I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day since I started this job,” said Kuntz, who during the summer months helps out with his family’s construction company. “On any given day, I can be on the ice with my 16-, 17-, 18-year-old varsity kids all the way down to our termites, our 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. It took me a while, my mindset on patience. I have a lot less patience with my high school boys as I do with the little kids; I think that’s kind of like therapy for me.”

Needless to say, Kuntz loves being a part of the Dickinson Hockey Club. He played for the program for 14 years growing up, before heading off to the University of Montana to earn a business degree. Kuntz was on the Grizzles’ club hockey team for three years before returning home.

“The transition for me was almost seamless,” Kuntz said. “I have buddies that I graduated with that have 7-, 8-year-old kids. If they weren’t coaching before, when they saw that I became the hockey director, they were probably thinking, ‘Oh, man, now my phone’s going to be blowing up because Dallas is going to ask me to come coach.’”

Kuntz was a successful player in high school for the Dickinson Midgets, helping lead them to their first ever state tournament appearance when he was a junior in 2000. Last year, Kuntz led the program to just its second trip to state.

“I was very fortunate to get there as a player and the next time we went, I was the coach,” Kuntz said. “It meant that much more to me to get back there.”

Kuntz is honored to be the hockey director and coach in the program he grew up skating for.

“Everything that the program did for me, this is my way of giving back,” Kuntz said. “Every day is rewarding.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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