Derek DeBlois and Mac Bennett have several things in common.
Each starred for the University of Michigan men’s hockey team.
Each played on the United States team that won the 2009 World Junior A Challenge.
And each played youth hockey for the Providence Capitals.
Their success is a testament to the Rhode Island-based association’s high-caliber nature. Capitals Program Director Matt Smith credits the association’s achievements to several factors.
“We play in one of the best youth leagues in the country, the Eastern Hockey Federation,” he said. “We provide parents and players a high level of coaching as well as competition against top kids each weekend. We provide one of the best skill development models around. We go from learn to skate to [juniors who play in] the U.S. Premier Hockey League.”
Another plus for the Capitals is that they own they own venue, the Rhode Island Sports Center in North Smithfield, which among other things, contains high-end private locker rooms.
This past season, Providence fielded 16 teams, from Mite Major Elite through Midget Under-16 Elite and Midget Under-18 Elite half-season teams. And commencing this season, the association will be adding a full-season Under-16 team that will play in the USPHL, plus a junior team that will compete in the USPHL’s Elite Division.
“We’ve expanded because, historically, we’ve had elite teams,” Smith said. “We added a Tier I program because we wanted to have a place to play for kids at all levels of hockey. Plenty of players are late bloomers. That’s where our Tier I programs come in.”
At the same time, the Capitals also take great pride in their overall development efforts, starting with beginners.
“We’ve really expanded our learn-to-skate and learn-to-play programs because we want to bring in as many learn-to-play and learn-to-skate kids as possible,” Smith said. “Overall, we’ve grown our program by 50 to 60 percent.”
Because of the Capitals’ success and their ability to add players, the junior team they’re adding will enable boys to remain under the same roof, so to speak, from mites all the way through junior hockey.
“It only made sense for us to make that choice,” said Smith. “They come in and stay with us, especially if prep school is not an option. And we’re not pushing kids away from prep hockey.
“But over the past few years, the junior hockey teams have been very successful and get a lot of exposure and play at a high level of hockey. We wanted to get involved with that.”
Smith, who just completed his first season with the Capitals, realizes that not every boy who comes through the program will play hockey beyond the high school level.
“My biggest thrill is to see the kids’ improvement and the fact they’re having fun,” he said. “Hockey is about making friends and the camaraderie in the locker room.
“Unfortunately, only a small percentage will play college hockey and a smaller percentage will play pro hockey. But what they’ll remember are the life-long friends they’ve made. That plays a huge role in their social life. Otherwise, you miss out on a lot of things kids your age don’t get to do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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