The 2014-15 season is on pace to include a record number of players according to data shared with the USA Hockey Board of Directors at its annual winter meeting at the Renaissance SeaWorld Hotel in Orlando last weekend.
The overall number of players in a year-over-year comparison as of early January is up by more than two percentage points and that number is expected to hold for season-ending numbers, which will be available in June.
“Our goal is to be the best youth sports option in communities all across the country and I think our on-going focus on safety and age-appropriate development is one that parents recognize and is paying dividends on multiple fronts, inclusive of growing the game,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “And with the great programs in adult hockey, we’re thrilled the number of adult players engaged with USA Hockey continues to rise as well.”
Also revealed at the meeting was a new Club Excellence program being developed to support volunteers of local youth hockey programs nationwide. The concept is, in part, modeled after an in-person resource fair conducted by the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association last summer. The centerpiece of the program will be the Power Play web portal, which will provide a centralized website for volunteers to access training and information related to their duties within their organization. It is intended that most elements of the Club Excellence program, including the Power Play web portal, will be in place by the spring of 2016.
“I’m really excited about our Club Excellence project,” said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey. “We’ve done a lot for our players, coaches and officials in using technology to improve education and it’s terrific that we’re moving ahead enhancing those areas for our volunteer leaders all across the country. We believe we have the best volunteers of any youth sport and this is an effort to help streamline resources for them without reducing standards.”
Another topic that received significant attention was the importance of teaching the body-checking components that are part of the American Development Model curriculum. Guy Gosselin, one of USA Hockey’s ADM regional managers, outlined the four key areas of teaching body-checking during one of the Town Hall sessions, including:
“When our Board modified the allowable age for body-checking in games back in 2011, it was done as part of the Progressive Checking Skill Development Program,” said Kevin McLaughlin, senior director of hockey development for USA Hockey. “That goes from kids getting used to body contact at the younger age levels, to teaching body-checking at the peewee level in practice and then full body-checking in games at the bantam level. It’s important that our programs across the country are utilizing this curriculum as part of the recommended practice structure and I think it’s something everyone feels like we can do a much better job with.”
McLaughlin also noted that much progress continues to be made in the implementation of age-appropriate curriculum at all age levels as part of the ADM.
It was also reported that the USA Hockey Foundation’s It Starts With a Stick campaign raised nearly $100,000 in its first year. The program, which was a month-long effort in December that included donations from hockey fans across the country, as well as a number of NHL players, raised money to put sticks in the hands of kids trying the game for the very first time Feb. 21 during USA Hockey’s national Try Hockey for Free Day, presented by Kraft. The day is part of the 8th annual Hockey Weekend Across America celebration set for Feb. 20-22, presented by CCM.
“We’re extremely pleased with the results in our first year,” said Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development for USA Hockey. “We’ll be able to put a stick in the hands of approximately 7,500 kids in February, which we think will help in helping kids develop a passion for the game.”
Attendees also learned about USA Hockey's partnership with Kraft Hockeyville, a program that seeks to find America's most passionate hockey town. Nominations are currently being accepted and a total of 10 finalists will be named in April. All total, $425,000 in funding for arena upgrades will be awarded among the finalists, including $150,000 to the winner. In addition, the winning community will have the chance to host an NHL pre-season game that will be televised nationally by NBC Sports Network
NOTES: Ron DeGregorio presented the President’s Award to four individuals, including John Vanbiesbrouck, vice president of USA Hockey and chair of the Junior Council; Tom Branden, chair of the USA Hockey Registrars Section; Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development for USA Hockey; and Cameron Eickmeyer, director of internet content and development for USA Hockey … The 2015 USA Hockey Annual Congress will be held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 3-6.