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Anaheim Jr. Ducks Look to Grow Goaltending Ranks, Improve Retention

By Dan Scifo, 01/02/24, 2:30PM MST


The organization has heavily invested in equipment and coaching to encourage more kids to try goaltending

The Anaheim Jr. Ducks have identified an approach to grow their goaltending ranks and improve retention throughout the organization, starting at the grassroots level.

The Jr. Ducks purchased quick-change goaltender equipment, hosted a USA Hockey bronze-level course — specifically for club coaches — and will host a USA Hockey silver-level, in-person goaltending event in February.

“The problem isn’t going to be fixed overnight, but we need gear,” said Rick Hutchinson, director of hockey for The Rinks and Great Park Ice within the Anaheim Ducks organization. “And gear is one thing, but we need to educate our coaches so when they have the gear, they have a little bit of knowledge. That way the goalie feels they have the attention they need. Once you get into it and have some training, it’s not as difficult to do fun things to keep goalies active and engaged in your practices.”

Hutchinson has more than 30 years of coaching and player development experience, which includes a USA Hockey master’s coaching certification. Throughout his three-decade career, Hutchinson said his focus has been building a base of players at the grassroots level.

He estimated an additional 83 goaltenders would be needed to begin growing current recreational league programming in his area. But to reach the organization’s target of two goaltenders per team, the current recreational teams should have 130 goaltenders, which is a deficit of 103.

“We’ve been really trying to focus on the growth of the sport from the bottom up,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said that there was a surplus of goaltenders in the past, but it has since dwindled, particularly during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. He spoke with Steve Thompson, USA Hockey’s manager of player development,goaltending, who said that most areas across the country are short on goalies, mainly because of additional equipment costs and lack of attention during clinics and practices, among other areas.

Therefore, Hutchinson and his team developed a strategy to grow and retain goaltenders at the grassroots level.

“We’re definitely headed in the right direction, and we’ve been working for two years just to get everything moving along,” said Stephanie Yates, USA Hockey’s Pacific District goalie coach-in-chief and the goaltending development director for the Lady Ducks. “We’ve seen such a huge deficit,and this has been one of the most impactful years where the organization has provided a lot of education for coaches and just created a buzz. We’re essentially trying to change the culture and that’s awesome.”

According to Hutchinson, the biggest hurdle was gear because it’s so expensive. Hutchinson is also a vice president on the California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) board. He invited every club in California to apply, and CAHA agreed to fund almost 30 organizations across the state tosupport the grassroots effort for goaltending.

CAHA spent $90,000 – $60,000 for equipment, $12,000 for membership incentives and registration discounts, $10,000 for goalie development campsand $8,000 was set aside for extended education for coaches and additional coaching expenses.

“It’s easy to ask for loaner or donated gear, but we had to come up with a plan to get new gear,” Hutchinson said. “Then we had to improve our training because a lot of coaches don’t have the proper goalie training.”

The quick-change goalie equipment is specifically designed to make it easier for a coach or parent to convert a skater to a goaltender within minutes. The set features a chest and arm protector, gloves and goalie pads.

“One minute they’ve scored a goal and the next minute they’re stopping their friends,” Yates said. “It can be very daunting when you’re in net and you can’t move because the equipment weighs more than you. The attention spans aren’t always there at that age, but the smiles have been huge because this allows the kids a chance to move.”

Hutchinson added that the Jr. Ducks hosted a bronze-level goaltender training camp in November with about 30 of the organization’s coaches participating. Bronze-level clinics give coaches an understanding of goaltender fundamentals, along with drill design and game management.

USA Hockey will host a silver-level goaltender training course in Anaheim this year. The silver level builds upon the bronze class and takes a deeper dive into mental and off-ice training for goaltenders, along with depth management, game awareness, season planning and more. The course is comprised of three virtual courses, followed by an in-person event where coaches will hit the ice and work with professional coaches and goaltenders.

The additional higher-level education, along with the new quick-change equipment, is all part of the plan to grow goaltenders at the grassroots level throughout the state.

“When you see someone willing to put in the time and effort to create a new project and do something that’s going to benefit the bottom level, it’s easy to fund,” Hutchinson said. “The clubs that have been receiving the gear were kind of blown away, and they were super appreciative and thankful that we were able to do something like this. We want everyone to play the position at least once, and that’s why I want my team to have the proper training, so we can make it fun for the kids.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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