As Florida has made great gains as a hockey state, so have the Ellenton, Fla.-based East Coast Flames.
“Roller hockey used to be big around Tampa,” Flames president Don Golden said. “A lot of them have gone away, and the kids get into ice hockey. It’s just a different game.”
“Then there are boys like my son, who was a baseball player. He tried hockey, and he loved it.”
As a result, the Flames have been able to grow into a strong organization on the southern side of Tampa Bay. When the 2014-15 season faces off, the Flames will have teams at the squirt A, peewee A, peewee AA, bantam A, bantam AA, Under-16 AA and Under-18 AA levels.
But the Flames don’t just open the doors to the Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex and hope boys will walk in and ask to register. Among other things, the Flames participate in USA Hockey’s Try Hockey for Free Day. The Flames also run a rec program, while the rink offers a Hockey 101 class.
“Once you get out of Try Hockey for Free, [Hockey 101] is a more advanced skills clinic, and it can be for anyone,” Golden said. “Fred Eaton is the hockey director for the rink and the Flames, so he wears two hats. He runs learn-to-play hockey, Hockey 101 and rec hockey.”
“The goal is that the kids will end up with the Flames.”
It also doesn’t hurt to have a relationship with the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The Lightning organization is awesome in terms of sponsoring events,” Golden said. “One former player, Jassen Cullimore, came in and taught kids how to play defense.”
“Brian Bradley [another former Lightning player] also has come in and helped teach the kids. Players like him are outstanding. I can’t say enough about what the Lightning do for the Flames and youth hockey.”
One way the Flames give their players the best experience possible is through focusing on player development.
“We definitely want to emphasize skill development, and winning is secondary,” Golden said. “Last year, we had a squirt development team instead of a squirt A team. We were able to provide them with more ice time, which gave them more time for development. They did well in tournaments because they were able to do more training — on and off the ice.”
“We want to develop skills. We offer skills clinics throughout the week so kids can get extra ice time and development.”
Three other reasons factor into why the Flames are able to put more of an emphasis on skill development.
For one, the Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex has two NHL-size rinks. The Flames are able to use each rink and “have plenty of ice time,” Golden said.
The Flames also have a certified trainer, Matt Eaton (Fred Eaton’s son), who specializes in developing agility and fitness as well as discussing the benefits of proper nutrition.
And last but not least is the Flames’ emphasis on building character.
“Hockey is a team sport, so children learn the value of working with others,” Golden said. “They learn to rely on teammates and understand that cooperation is the key to success.”
“Kids on hockey teams experience a team spirit that encourages trust, responsibility, sportsmanship and a strong sense of accomplishment.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.