Before young players join the Phoenix Junior Coyotes youth teams, they start in a three-level pre-hockey program consisting of PH1, PH2 and PH3.
“PH1 incorporates balance, stops and how to get up,” said Junior Coyotes President Scott Gruber. “PH2 incorporates more of the same with backwards skating, transitions and stops. PH3 is taught with a stick — where to cut your stick, how to hold it and how to be in control of your stick.”
Throughout the process, players learn general skating techniques including forward stride, length and strength, balance, backward, transitions, stopping both ways, crossovers, power turns and minimal puck handling.
“These steps help our youngsters get comfortable on their skates, so once we introduce pucks, they’re not still focused on their skating,” Gruber said. “They must pass PH3 before they can join our initiation program.”
The Junior Coyotes Initiation Program involves 20 on-ice sessions. The kids in the class must graduate in order to be eligible for the house league.
“The purpose is to get these young skaters comfortable performing the acts they’ll encounter playing the game of hockey,” Gruber said.
Each session can be slightly different, depending on the size and needs of the class.
“Enrollment numbers make up the basis for the development of the class,” Gruber said. “This determines how many coaches are on the ice and how many stations we run.
“The curriculum also is based on how far the class has progressed. Some classes are very much beginner while others are somewhat advanced. It seems to go in cycles. We average about 50 skaters in an IP class, but we’ve topped 76 skaters at one time.”
The Junior Coyotes have had plenty of success — their websites boasts of 24 Arizona state champions — and the association’s philosophy emphasizes player development as the primary goal.
“Our fall/winter house league is all development-based,” Gruber said. “We don’t put any stock in wins and losses. Having the most wins in a certain division doesn’t get you anything.
“Playoffs are a round-robin, blind draw. The teams that stick with development and don’t place so much emphasis on wins and losses end up better off in the long run.”
Gruber cited a recent season in which a squirt team finished fifth out of six teams during the season but captured the playoff championship.
“Because they stuck to the plan and parents were on board with development over wins, they prevailed in the playoffs,” Gruber said. “We try our best to build and draft teams so they play ties.”
The Junior Coyotes also have embraced USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“It absolutely works,” Gruber said.
The biggest benefit of small-area hockey, Gruber said, is the increased number of puck touches for every player.
“Mite full-ice was a one-person game, and now we have a team game,” Gruber said. “Smaller areas also are helping the puck handling and vision of all these young players. It’s also showing the need for passing if a player is getting bottled up. In this case, there is a need to make a pass in order to make a play.
“Smaller nets give kids confidence, and having gear for all players to try ended up creating more goalies, too. We have an astounding number of nine kids up from mite that want to try being goalies now in our spring three-on-three league.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.