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ADM Spurs Growth for San Francisco Sabercats

By Mike Scandura - Special to USAHockey.com, 11/07/14, 5:45PM MST

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Efficient use of ice time is key

The San Francisco Sabercats had two youth travel teams in 2011 and added a third when Hockey Director Tim Nelson arrived in 2012. This season, the Sabercats have five teams, and next year they hope to add another.

"The reason for that growth is simple," Nelson says. "It’s all about USA Hockey’s American Development Model."

“We use the ADM out of necessity, because we don’t have any other way to grow the program,” Nelson said. “We went from having 15 kids on the ice to having 45 kids on the ice for half-ice and some for stations.”

That increased ice time is especially important for an association like the Sabercats, who are limited to a single sheet of ice at the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center in downtown San Francisco, California.

“It’s a real challenge because San Francisco only has one ice sheet,” Nelson said. “[Yerba Buena] provides services for figure skating and skating schools, so ice time is limited.”

Besides getting more kids on the ice through cross-ice play and station-based drills, the Sabercats have also thrived by embracing other tenets of the ADM, such as optimal practice-to-game ratios for each age group.

This season, the Sabercats have one mite team, two squirt teams, a peewee team and a midget team.

“We try to give the kids as much practice time as we have available,” Nelson said of the squirt, peewee and midget teams. “We try to get every team on the ice three times a week for practice, and we give them one game. It’s a three-to-one ratio, plus dryland on top of that. Once you add in dryland, we have about four practices and one game a week.

“The mites are on ice at least three times a week, and everyone else it’s four times [for three practices plus one game].”

Virtually from their inception at the turn of the century, the Sabercats have made skill development a higher priority than playing lots of games against outside opponents. That was both a philosophical choice and a necessity for an association in an emerging hockey market that attracted a fair share of roller hockey players in the early days.

“Winning can be fun,” Nelson said. “But the general consensus with our program is that skill development is more important. Having fun is extremely important for mites and squirts. As the kids get older, they become more focused.”

Besides having fun, the Sabercats also emphasize sportsmanship, effort and teamwork.

“We try to develop more than great hockey players,” Nelson said. “We try to develop great people. We aspire to be respectful in victory and gracious in defeat. We strive to perform at the highest level of our abilities, and we work together and share our success.”

The Sabercats also have benefitted by their participation in USA Hockey’s CCM Incentive Award Program. In 2013, they were among the top five associations in the country for registering new participants. As a result, they were rewarded with 20 sets of helmets and gloves.

“We try to be part of that program every year,” Nelson said. “The Sabercats are part of Try Hockey for Free Day in terms of providing coaches and volunteers to do things like tie skates plus fit kids with gear.

“Long term, the Sabercats will see the benefit of the CCM program.”

Nelson also was quick to offer advice to other associations that are trying to grow their programs.

“The thing about mites is you can give them as much as time as you want because they recover quickly,” he said. “But putting 45 kids on the ice at one time is a handful. It can be done if there’s organization.

“We plan our practices and run them in stations and divide them up according to skill levels. You divide them up and have at it. When you have a lot more kids, organization is a must. If you try to wing it, it doesn’t work out right.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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