It’s an unusual subject to lead a youth hockey story, but when a team’s goal differential improves by 137 goals in one year, the statistic precedes the anecdote.
Want more? One year ago, the 12U Hershey Junior Bears scored 2.4 goals per game. In 2013-14, with essentially the same roster of girls between the ages of 8 and 13, they doubled that average. At the same time, they cut their goals against to less than 1.5 per game and the Junior Bears’ goaltenders registered 13 shutouts.
So what ignited the improvement? Certainly another year of physical maturation played a role. Players like Bekah Smith, 13, sprouted seemingly overnight, scoring 28 goals as a stronger, taller version of the girl who scored just a single goal in 2012-13. But there was another change complementing her growth, and that of her teammates. It was a change in the team’s training philosophy.
“We used the ADM,” said Brian Simpson, the first-year head coach who helped guide Hershey’s transformation. “And we have a great group of assistant coaches, who are far more skilled than me, that did the skill instruction.”
A dominant season was the result, with the Junior Bears steamrolling to a 27-4-5 record, a Ponytail Tournament championship and wins against squirt and peewee boys’ teams.
“This year, in particular, we really saw the difference in our girls,” said Simpson. “The ADM has been absolutely fantastic, which isn’t news to anybody, and it’s made such a huge difference for us in a short amount of time.”
The success stories litter Hershey’s roster. Kendall Miller, introduced to the game last year in Hershey’s learn-to-play program, stepped into her first year of organized hockey and finished the season as a point-per-game player. Sarah Huggins, another learn-to-play graduate, jumped from five goals last year to 19 in 2013-14. Ada Garlin climbed from five to 18. Simpson’s 9-year-old daughter, Abby, increased her scoring output from two goals to 11. Every Junior Bears skater scored at least one goal, and Kayla Kauffman rarely surrendered any. It was truly a team-wide metamorphosis.
“Most games, we allowed fewer shots against than our goal-scoring totals because, utilizing the ADM, our puck possession and passing was so good that the other team just never got the puck,” said Simpson, who learned about hockey from his grandmother in Detroit, a fan of the Red Wings’ famed Production Line. “Our girls soared past boys who have played hockey much longer, but don’t use the ADM.”
The Junior Bears’ commitment to balanced playing time throughout the season also paid dividends. In late-season play, Hershey’s third- and fourth-line players blossomed, providing an offensive boost that propelled Hershey to the tournament triumph and an eight-game undefeated streak.
“By using the ADM, the skill level of these girls is improving sooner,” said Simpson.
The season was such an epiphany, that Girls Junior Bears vice president Mark Seymour recommended an American Development Model overhaul to the organization’s summer program. Simpson is eager to help. He’s also implemented ADM dryland training within the organization and attended a pair of Michele Amidon’s USA Hockey coaching clinics to gain a few new tricks.
“We’re going to do one hour of summer ice, every other week, for five weeks using six-station ADM practices,” said Simpson. “And we’re going to have it open to all the girls in our organization, which is another thing that the ADM has allowed us to do.”
It wasn’t difficult to find ADM advocates among the Junior Bears parents.
“The skill-based drills worked wonders for Kendall,” said Bob Miller. “She learned what she was supposed to do on the ice and when she was supposed to do it. And she learned the game the right way, with a team of coaches that were perfect for her.
“Her love for the game continues to grow, as does her skill level, both because of the learn-to-play program and the ADM. She keeps saying that she'll be on the 2022 Women's Olympic Team. If she does make it, it’s because of the great start given to her by LTP and the ADM.”
Kendall’s teammate, Katie Sottile, wasn’t new to hockey – her father, Dave, has covered AHL hockey for nearly 20 years as a Pennsylvania sportswriter – but she was new to playing hockey after doing ballet, jazz and tap dance from age 3 to 11. She joined the Junior Bears this season, scoring eight goals and adding nine assists while shuttling between defense and forward.
“Her mother and I always told her to do what she wanted to do until it wasn’t fun anymore. Dance stopped being fun and she told us that she wanted to learn to skate,” said Dave. “So she did a learn-to-skate program and then a learn-to-play program. She played through an injury-filled season with a boys' team in 2012-13 that didn’t follow the ADM. And to me, it looked like too much standing around at those practices. We were looking for a new experience, so Katie joined the Junior Bears. The ADM allowed her to work on stickhandling, shooting, skating – things that she didn't do enough of at practices the previous year with a different organization. The ADM practice structure helped her work on every possible skill, every time she was on the ice. Now she views herself as a hockey player instead of a girl who plays hockey.
“I have no doubt that the ADM helped my daughter improve. The boys weren’t getting as much out of their practices because they weren’t following the ADM guidelines. What we saw with the girls was rapid improvement.”