When Greg Stornello was appointed hockey director for the Jaguar Hockey Club in Joliet, Ill., he had one major goal that can be summed up in two words: player development.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been more into player development instead of just getting teams into the building [at the Inwood Ice Arena],” said Stornello, who was appointed hockey director in 2010. “This organization has been around since 1979. The best way for kids to be successful is to give them the fundamentals. We hone in on the true aspect, which is player development.
“Our motto around here is: The Jaguars aren’t a place to play hockey. It’s a place to train to become a hockey player.”
Stornello knows of what he speaks, since he’s been involved with Illinois youth hockey for 30 years. But when he joined the JHC, the organization had only 150 youth players, including travel teams and learn-to-skate players. Today the JHC boasts 400 players over 13 teams that play in the Northwest Hockey League and the Northern Illinois Hockey League.
“When USA Hockey started the American Development Model, [JHC] had a learn-to-skate program, but no ADM,” Stornello said. “I embraced the ADM with a former club. When I came here I felt it was necessary to follow suit.
“I was proactive in the early stages, and I believe that helped us get players into the program. I wanted to create community-based hockey in Illinois, just like in Massachusetts. I truly believe that’s what helped get kids into our building. All of our kids are home-grown.”
That didn’t mean that everybody immediately embraced the ADM player-development mindset.
“I feel a lot of families who aren’t in the know, hockey-wise, get caught up in full-ice and don’t embrace playing in smaller areas,” Stornello said. “With a one-sheet facility, USA Hockey helped us get money to purchase dividers. We went from having 30 players on the ice to having 90 to 100 players.
“We divide the ice into as many as six to 10 stations, depending on the number of kids we have for that hour.”
Thirty families in particular needed convincing that cross-ice hockey was the best way to skate.
“I had to convince them that our program, even though it was cross-ice from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1, that mites must play cross-ice,” Stornello said. “Our top 30 8-and-under boys could have left to play elsewhere, but they stayed and remained true to our program.
“They had to believe in the fact that development was the key factor. We didn’t lose any 8-and-under players.”
Travel-team players on Monday nights are involved in skill training. Later in a given week, they do a segment of full-ice power skating and then break into five stations. Each small-area station involves something different for a period of 20 weeks.
With Stornello at the helm, the JHC 8U team has been recognized as a “Top Ten” team in Illinois for two of the last four years.
“For mites, the NIHL is the top-end travel league in Illinois,” he said. “If you make the top division, which is the Elite Bracket, they take the top eight teams.
“Within the last four years, we’ve had two teams play at the top level.”
Hence the “Top Ten” team recognition.
Because registrations for the JHC have expanded in recent years, the organization had to seek additional ice time. As a result, they’ve also used Canlan Ice Sports in Romeoville over the last four years.
“With the growth in the program, the only way to improve the kids’ skills is to be on the ice,” Stornello said. “You need laid-out programs and ice to accommodate them.
“People have their dos and don’ts regarding playing cross-ice or full-ice, but I truly believe, even with my oldest teams dating back five years ago, there’s benefits to small-area training at every level.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
It’s an off-season that continues to be full of changes, reactionary and planned, as all of us in the USA Hockey Officiating Department forge forward in the new normal. Our efforts are consistently focused on ensuring safety, fun and development for players, coaches and officials.
One issue that continues to arise is the abuse of officials and the effects it has on retention. To counter and help improve the environment, USA Hockey’s rules sub-committee has been focused and committed to solutions.
This sub-committee was established to define and recommend programs to confront this problem. As a result of this, a first step was taken at the recent Annual Congress to amend the Zero Tolerance Policy. Several proposals were made and adopted by the Board of Directors to constructively confront this problem.
These changes strongly recommend things like game officials introducing themselves to the coach during warm-ups in order to start the communication process and set some guidelines for in-game communication.
The parents/spectators section was amended to clearly state the behavioral expectations of this group. Another strong recommendation added to this section was to establish a parent/spectator monitor by each local youth hockey team for all games. Ideally, this monitor will address and de-escalate parent/spectator behavior before it impacts the game and the officials have to stop play.
Also added, a reminder to administrators that they are responsible for taking any appropriate disciplinary action towards parents/spectators that are removed from a game as a result of a violation of the Zero Tolerance Policy.
Navigating New Norms
As we all still grapple with the effects of the pandemic, the Officiating Program has been working to develop effective ways to fulfill our educational responsibilities when it comes to the annual registration process. To that end, the only process that provides educational value and a safe environment is with virtual seminars. A format and curriculum was developed and approved by the District RIC’s. This was distributed to all of the District RIC’s for implementation as they see fit. Due to the many different and ever-changing restrictions around the country, if the situation arises where in-person seminars can be held then the District RIC can also schedule them as needed. The Virtual Seminar Program is the best solution for this season. As situations change, the Officials Section will revisit this program for all future seasons.
Every Tuesday, the Officiating Education Program will present an hour-long webinar on various topics of interest and importance to not only USA Hockey’s officials but the entire membership. These panel discussions will cover topics such as abuse and zero tolerance, communication, player safety, as well as items such as game management and positioning within the three recognized USA Hockey Officiating systems. Panelists will include some of the top officials in the country and other experts from the hockey world whose goal will be to inform, entertain and encourage the USA Hockey community to learn more about officiating.
Getting officials from their first year to their third season is a key focus for the Officiating Education Program. Helping officials understand the basics of the craft and giving them a supportive resource is what the Mentor Project is all about. USA Hockey is helping local Officials Associations put together the framework where a mentor gets matched with a new official and works with them not only in their first month or second, but is a constant resource for the new official throughout their first couple of seasons. Learning about how to read the rule book, navigate the challenges of getting assignments and become a proficient official are all goals of the mentor project.
Again, we hope everyone is safe and sane as we prepare for a different landscape of hockey – but we are excited to welcome it, and you, back to the game.
See you at the rink!
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