The Schenectady Youth Hockey Association (SYHA) was established as an official charter organization in the early 1970s. Like most nonprofit programs, it has seen plenty of new faces and changes since then.
Its mission, however, remains the same: providing a fun, safe environment that promotes hockey instruction, skill development and value-based life lessons for its players.
In 2011, the association strengthened that commitment by working toward full implementation of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, along with its age-appropriate programming and concepts.
Three years later, it became one of six organizations to earn official designation by USA Hockey as a Model Association. This allowed SYHA to receive in-person training for coaches, on-ice instruction and parent education, as well as equipment and other resources from USA Hockey.
“When you watch kids play full-ice, which is what we did before, there were always three or four who were touching the puck and involved in the play,” said Peter Bouton, the program’s association coaching education (ACE) coordinator. “It made a lot of sense to everybody that you should [reduce] the ice down to the size of the kids.”
Rich Hansen, who took over as ADM regional manager for the Atlantic region that includes Schenectady three years ago, was impressed by the program’s enthusiasm for ADM, particularly among its coaches.
“The coaches I dealt with absolutely loved what they were doing,” Hansen said. “They changed their formatting with their practices, adding more kids on the ice.”
According to Bouton, who has two sons in the program, growth has been steady since fully adopting the ADM.
“When I was coaching the cross-ice program, we hit our max, which was 60 players,” he recalled. “We make an effort not to turn people away. What we’ve done instead is redirect the younger players to the mini mite program, so we make an effort not to shut things down to anybody of those birth years who want to participate.”
Many of SYHA’s teams practice at the Schenectady County Recreational Center (SCRF), and the cross-ice program plays their games at the nearby Union College rink for an hour on Sundays. The organization is currently looking for space to conduct more off-ice training, which was briefly held at the county airport.
“We rented an airport hangar right next to the rink,” Bouton explained. “We used that for the kids to do their off-ice training, because we don’t have room at the rink itself.”
While some associations break up their 8U program into several teams, SYHA prefers to place all 60 of its kids into one cross-ice program. The team plays scrimmage games internally as opposed to traveling around the state. The 10U program consists of four teams, with three in 12U, two in 14U, and one each in 16U and 18U.
In terms of skill development, a heavy emphasis is placed on skating. Lessons are offered from beginner to advanced levels and run an hour per week for seven weeks. The sessions are divided into 30-minute segments of small group and independent practices.
“Skating is so important as a foundation,” Bouton explained. “We’ve found that by the time our kids hit 10U and 12U, they’re comparatively very good skaters.”
The goalie program has produced so many quality goaltenders over the years, it has garnered quite a reputation in the area.
“I get calls from ACE directors every year [asking] if we have any extra goalies,” Bouton said. “Sometimes, we’ve had years where we literally have too many goalies. It’s a fantastic problem to have.”
Even when players leave for other programs, Bouton constantly hears from those who appreciated being taught the concepts of ADM at an early age.
“I’ve always had incredibly good feedback that they couldn’t have started their hockey career and had success if they hadn’t started here, and because of the emphasis on ADM,” he said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.