New York has been a hockey hotbed for a long time.
With three NHL teams in the state, youth players are able to watch their idols from a young age.
When Joe Baudo became president of the New York State Amateur Hockey Association (NYSAHA) in 2000, there were about 45,000 youth skaters in the association. With Baudo still leading the way 20 years later, growth has increased by nearly 20%, with the figures now hovering around 55,000 players.
It excites Baudo knowing he’s affecting 55,000 young minds with a positive thing like hockey.
“It’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing all these years,” said Baudo. “When you walk into an ice rink and there’s kids that you’ve known for years that may have played for you when you coached or you know their families and they still remember you, it’s nice to see that. You feel that you’ve made some difference in their life that’s positive one way or another.”
With how much area New York covers, it is divided into four regions. That makes it easier to manage every area.
“We’re a single state, but in some ways we’re like other Districts that have four or five states,” Baudo said. “We divide New York into four areas, west, central, east and north and have a vice president in every one of those areas.”
Baudo, 69, said he has a good group of fellow volunteers who make his life a lot easier.
He lives in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda, and has been a lifelong hockey fan. Once his kids started playing hockey, Baudo decided to get involved with his area association.
His oldest son, Joe Jr., got into the sport in 1981. A couple years later, Baudo joined the board of Wheatfield Blades Hockey Association (North Tonawanda). He started out as equipment manager before moving to to secretary and then president from 1986-90. He became the NYSAHA vice president in 1993 and took over as president in 2000. Baudo has served as a member of the USA Hockey Board of Directors for the past 16 years and during that time has also been part of the organization’s Youth Council.
“I still enjoy doing it — the people you know, the people you meet,” Baudo said. “I’ve got a lot of friends throughout the entire country because of it. It’s good, and it’s good to get back and watch kids go out and enjoy what they’re doing. I tell people that some of the biggest thrills are when I get players that come back and still remember you.”
Baudo used to coach Kevyn Adams, who played 13 seasons in the NHL. Brian Gionta, an 18-year NHL veteran, also runs into Baudo once in a while.
Both of Baudo’s son went on to play college hockey and are still involved in the sport. Joe Jr., is a college hockey official, and Baudo’s younger son, Chris, is the Nazareth College women’s hockey head coach.
Baudo has been able to juggle his volunteer hockey career in large part due to the support from his wife, Deb. After serving for 34 years as a senior engineer for the Buffalo Sewer Authority, Baudo retired in 2006. At that point, he was able to dedicate more time to hockey. Even in retirement, he needed to stay active and is working part-time at the Brighton Golf Course in Tonawanda.
Over his years as president, Baudo has led efforts to provide as many opportunities for young players as possible. The NYSAHA has offered a successful learn-to-skate program for years. The association has six trailers spread out throughout New York that are filled with equipment, so whenever local affiliates want to run a free skate, they have the resources at their fingertips. The trailers also contain sled hockey gear. Disabled hockey is one of the highest areas of growth in
“We’ve tried to make the game better in New York and tried to make it more available for kids,” Baudo said. “Over the years, we’ve given away a bunch of equipment, grant money and stuff like to help people grow. Basically, just give them a place to play.”
Adding new players has always been a big goal. Once kids are in the association, the retention rate is really high, Baudo said. But with the uncertainty of what’s going on in the world right now with the coronavirus pandemic, Baudo isn’t sure what numbers will look like for the fall.
“One of our biggest goals is trying to keep the younger numbers up,” Baudo said. “If we do that, that will carry through to the older ages.”
One of the toughest decisions Baudo has ever been involved with as NYSAHA president was to cut the 2019-20 season short because of the outbreak of COVID-19. New York had its state tournament going on in Amherst in March, but Westchester County was one of the first hotspots for the pandemic. Ultimately, the event was cancelled.
“That’s one of the toughest ones,” Baudo said. “In our case, we had that first weekend going and we had 156 teams scheduled to come in, so you’re talking about a couple thousand kids.
“The safety of the players and the people are most important.”
The next step for the NYSAHA is getting ready for a safe return to hockey as a new season approaches. Baudo has been leading Zoom meetings with NYSAHA board of director members every couple weeks to address the topic.
Baudo is determined to help make the new season the best for the players. That’s what he has always strived to do during his tenure as president.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.