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Entering 50th Season, Kirkwood Stronger Than Ever

09/12/2017, 10:30am MDT
By Mike Scandura - Special to USA Hockey

Commitment to skill development leads to wins

Of all the successes enjoyed by the Kirkwood Youth Hockey Association, one in particular impresses Director of Hockey Operations Mike Carapella.

“We haven’t had a transfer request out of our association in three years,” said Carapella. “We’ve got happy players, parents and coaches.        

“They talk to other people and say how great things are and other people want to come here.”

Due in part to Kirkwood being named a USA Hockey Model Association in 2013, those “other people” have joined in droves.

“Since we became a model association, we’ve had a big commitment toward being an American Development Model association,” said Carapella. “Over the last five seasons, we’ve grown by more than 170 players and are over 450 for this year.”

The upcoming season will see Kirkwood celebrate its 50th anniversary, which is certainly a significant milestone. But it’s going to be tough to top 2016-17 on the ice.

For example:        

  • Only two out of Kirkwood’s 16 8U and 12U teams finished under .500 in the Missouri State Hockey League.
  • In the 2017 Missouri state championships, seven Kirkwood teams qualified for the finals in their respective divisions. This number represented the most Kirkwood ever had qualify for the finals.
  • Kirkwood captured an association-record five state championships.
  • In 12U, Kirkwood had a team in every division championship and one team was eliminated by another Kirkwood team.

“A lot of our success stems from our player development focus,” Carapella said. “We constantly focus on the player and not the team (systems). About 10 years ago we made this cultural switch. That’s when we took our 8U players into half-ice hockey and did more half-ice practices.        

“That coincided with our ADM certification. That’s when our numbers started growing. Obviously our won-loss records got better and that’s when our players got happier, especially with our station-based practices.”

Kirkwood provides its coaches with weekly practice plans so that each coach is prepared before his or her team steps on the ice.

“The training is provided by USA Hockey and that’s the practice plan we deliver,” said Carapella. “We no longer use full sheets of ice for a practice; we use stations. Everyone sees progression of skills throughout the season.”

As a result, Kirkwood players are highly motivated thanks to the engaging station-based practices. But they’re also motivated by having time away from the rink.        

“Some of our best training comes during mandatory breaks during Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Carapella. “There isn’t any coaching instruction. The focus during the breaks is designed to give players a mental break so when they come back they’re ready for more instruction.”       

Judging by last season’s list of accomplishments, that plan is working.

“No other association has won more league and state championships in the last few years than us,” said Carapella. “But at the end of the day, I put more emphasis on finishing in the top of a division. Finishing first or second carries more clout. Winning is fantastic, but it’s a by-product of our culture and a matter of player development. We have such a focus on player development that our players increase their skill and they win.        

“Because of the advantages we’ve picked up with the ADM, our culture is awesome. From 8U up to 14U, we have a ton of fantastic coaches. The ADM has allowed us to train new coaches.”        

Carapella noted that, by following the ADM, Kirkwood keeps fewer players on its benches. As a result, more players are engaged and everyone gets more skill development opportunity. 

And everything is based on skill in small areas.

“Everything we do is based on skill first,” said Carapella.

Add to that the number of volunteers who serve as coaches and administrators that comprise the heart and soul of Kirkwood.        

“We’re blessed with the number of coaches we have,” said Carapella. “I had a coaches meeting recently and had 50 people show up. We talk with other associations and they don’t have the number and qualify of coaches we have. We have a lot of people that work really hard behind the scenes. Any non-profit association needs these types of people.

“We have a mix of guys who are new to the sport and some who’ve played college hockey or higher. We’re fortunate to have the coaches we have.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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