To average sports fans, any mention of Nebraska might conjure up thoughts of University of Nebraska football.
In the opinion of Fremont Flyers Director of Hockey Jason White, the state sporting landscape is much more diverse than that.
“If you can believe it or not, we have a very rich hockey tradition in Nebraska, especially in Omaha with the Aksarben [i.e. Nebraska spelled backwards] Knights who at one time were the farm team of the Detroit Red Wings,” White said. “They have a storied tradition. Terry Sawchuk played here, and so did Gordie Howe. It was a real big deal back in the 1960s.
“Then what Mike Kemp — who was the coach when I played at Nebraska-Omaha — did in the 1970s was start a club team. The opportunity seemed right in the mid-’90s to get this up and rolling. He spearheaded it.”
Omaha also is home to the United States Hockey League’s Lancers.
“[Former Lancers coach] Mike Hastings was one of the most successful USHL coaches ever,” White said. “We’ve had some great hockey minds come through here. We’re 20 minutes outside of Omaha, and Fremont is reaping some of the benefits.
“We’re starting to take off as a group. Hockey is becoming a mainstream sport. It’s fun. It’s fast-paced. It’s exciting. That really attracts a lot of kids.”
That definitely is the case with the Flyers. When the organization was formed for the 2008-09 season, barely 20 boys were registered. This season that number is 94.
The Flyers feature Mite and Mini-Mite (Under-8) teams; Squirt house 1 and 2 teams; a Peewee house team; a Bantam house team; a Peewee A travel team; and Select teams at the Peewee and Bantam levels.
Moreover, this is the first season the Flyers have a full roster for their Peewee house team, and it’s also the first time they’ve been able to field two Squirt house teams.
“We originally started as a house program,” White said. “We struggled with growth a little bit, and now we’ve been able to expand and offer Select hockey which involves some travel.”
White attributes much of the Flyers’ growth to USA Hockey’s principles.
“I think one of the big things is how USA Hockey has promoted the sport and how it’s worked with the NHL,” he said. “It’s set up a fail-proof plan. If you follow what USA Hockey offers and have the right people in the right positions, it’s easy to promote the sport.
“We’ve followed their American Development Model and seen the kids’ development go through the roof. They have smiles on their faces and are having fun. That’s a major reason for our growth. USA Hockey has done a great job at the grassroots level to create a passion for the sport.”
White predicts that passion will only increase now that Midland University will be adding a men’s and women’s varsity hockey team for the 2014-15 season.
“This has been in the works for a while and the timing was correct,” White said. “We’re excited that Midland’s bringing in a men’s and women’s program and eventually junior varsity programs. We could have two men’s and two women’s programs competing out of our rink [Sidner Ice Arena].
“For us, we know having these college programs will help promote our sport and the kids in our youth program. You start at Mites and down the road you might be able to play for a hometown college team. Eventually, we might have some of these college players help out on the ice and show some leadership and guidance. We’re super-excited about this.”
White and the entire organization will be equally excited when Fremont adds a high school team. That could happen in the near future, due in large part to the existence of the Flyers.
“That’s one of our goals,” White said. “Our oldest players now are first-year Bantams. We don’t have anyone older than 14. Next year we’ll have second-year Bantams, and then they’ll be old enough to play on a high school team.
“We want the kids to start at Mites and know they can play for a high school team and, eventually, Midland University. Our ultimate goal is to be able to offer a high school program.”
Two events in which the Flyers participate that help grow the program are the Veterans Day Jamboree and the Secret Shadow Jamboree. In each jamboree, 3-on-3 cross-ice games sans goalies are played and 4-on-4 half-ice games are played with goalies.
“All the variations have been great with the kids,” White said. “I’ve seen improvement by leaps and bounds for our Mites this year. We’ve had kids who, at the beginning of the year, barely could stand on their skates. Now, they are more proficient at playing the game.”
White’s adamant about the Flyers’ bedrock philosophy that the organization does not encompass a win-at-all-costs mentality.
“Society is about, win, win, win,” he said. “At the end of the day, if the kids have gotten better, have a smile on their faces and have improved, then we’ve accomplished what we wanted.
“The kids will experience success. Our goal is not about winning. It’s about growth and development.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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