Just like an architect draws up a blueprint before construction, so did the Canton (Mass.) Youth Hockey board of directors draw up hockey’s version of a blueprint for its youngest players.
In this case, the blueprint consists of three major components: a learn-to-skate program, a Mighty Mites league and a Mite Developmental League.
This foundation has bred success for the association.
Last season, for example, CYH fielded 22 teams ranging from mites through midgets that encompassed approximately 500 boys.
“We tend to have the same number of kids year in and year out,” CYH President Nick Maffeo said. “We’ve built a model that’s very sustainable, and we don’t have a lot of capacity to grow because of ice limitations.
“A lot of programs have had enrollment dips. We’ve maintained a steady pace throughout, so we can serve kids who want to play. It’s remarkable how consistent the numbers are every year.”
In Maffeo’s words, the learn-to-skate program is the CYH’s “launching point.”
“It’s teaching skating fundamentals and introducing people who are interested in learning hockey,” Maffeo said. “But the first step is skating basics. It’s a 16-week program staffed by volunteers who are coaches in our program, plus players from Canton High School.
“The kids respond well because they know high school kids are younger [than the adult volunteers]. They start to find somebody to look up to in terms of the high school kids.”
At the end of each season, CYH holds a learn-to-skate cross-ice jamboree tournament. Music is played during the games and, at the end, CYH holds an awards ceremony that’s styled after the Olympic Winter Games.
The second step for kids in the CYH system is Mighty Mites.
“This is an in-house league where we play cross-ice hockey,” Maffeo said. “We have about 50 to 60 kids in any given year that participate in the Mighty Mites program. We break them into teams and they play cross-ice games. Plus, we have skill sessions.”
Like Mighty Mites, the cross-ice Mite Developmental League has been in place for several years and has proven to be beneficial in its own right.
“This is a bridge to more competitive hockey,” Maffeo said. “It expands on the cross-ice program. The focus is on learning skills, having fun and developing a love for hockey so they want to continue on with hockey in a more competitive environment. That’s when they feel like, ‘I like this, and I want to keep playing.’
“These three introductory steps have been so successful for us as a program.”
Once boys “graduate” to competitive travel hockey teams at squirt and above, two factors help make it a comfortable fit.
First, travel is fairly local. CYH teams play in the South Shore Conference and the Yankee Conference.
“We’re playing other programs, but within a tight geographic area,” Maffeo said. “We’re in partnership with leagues that have multiple levels of competition.”
Secondly, multiple levels at each age group ensure teams play opponents that are comprised of boys who possess similar skills.
“The leagues provide those multiple levels of competition so teams play against competition that’s relatively equal,” Maffeo said. “That way, they’re competitive with each other so we don’t have lopsided games. It doesn’t do winning teams or losing teams any good if the final score is lopsided.
“The leagues have done a very good job every year based on parity.”
Not surprisingly, CYH serves as a feeder program for Canton High School, an arrangement that benefits both sides.
“It’s a huge connection and it always has been,” Maffeo said. “The youth kids really support the high school team. The high school kids come out and help us from time to time and make the connection with the kids so they want to be in their skates someday.
“It’s been that way for a long time. The Canton High team has been very successful over the years. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship between the youth program and the high school team.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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