As the Maine Gladiators prepare for the 2015-16 season, the Lewiston-based association will field 32 teams at the Tier II, III and IV levels. The number of Tier IV teams has increased from 10 to 11.
When talking about the association’s growth in recent years, Gladiators president Andy Guerin points to its free learn-to-play program.
“That’s how we ended up with 11 mite teams,” Guerin said. “Our mission for the learn-to-play program is to provide the opportunity for kids to try hockey in a loosely-structured environment for players 4 years and up.
“Our hope is each child enjoys the sport, continues on to their age-appropriate division and becomes a lifelong hockey fan. Kids that have stuck with it have found they really enjoy the game.”
When new participants show up to the free learn-to-play program, they find coaches and student volunteers who are eager to help new players on the ice. The volunteers help kids become familiar with how it feels to skate, fall down, get back up and try again.
While the learn-to-play program has helped get new players in the door, the American Development Model has helped them climb the ranks. Once the Gladiators embraced USA Hockey’s age-appropriate ADM guidelines, Guerin noticed more and more kids coming off the ice with smiles on their faces.
That’s particularly true for the youngest kids who play on divided ice sheets.
“Players come off the ice and say they’ve had a great time,” Guerin said.
“Mites and under prefer to stick to half-ice. It gets everyone involved, unlike full-ice, where kids don’t get the puck as much, they get bored and they don’t like the game anymore.”
Initially, Guerin said, the Gladiators met some resistance from parents who were wary of the ADM. But once those parents saw the ADM in action, opinions quickly changed.
“After they saw their kids go through it for a year or two, they saw improvement,” Guerin said. “When our kids move up to squirts, you can see drastic improvement in their skating and stickhandling.”
While developing good hockey players, the Gladiators also work to develop good people. That’s where their Sports Person of the Month program comes in.
“We look for someone who shows good sportsmanship and isn’t just a good hockey player,” Guerin said. “We look for kids who are good role models and also are good students. Academics are important.
“College coaches are looking for somebody who goes above and beyond and is dedicated to the team and their coaches.”
Players are nominated for the monthly honor by a coach, a parent or a teammate.
“It could be something like going beyond helping out a teammate,” Guerin said. “We weigh the choices, and our committee selects one.”
Dunkin’ Donuts, the Gladiators’ corporate sponsor, displays posters of the Sports Person of the Month in stores throughout the area.
Another plus for the Gladiators is their home facility, the Norway Savings Bank Arena, which is Maine’s lone twin-sheet arena. As a result, the Gladiators don’t have to scour the state for ice time, whether it’s for practices or games.
“We’ve been there and done that,” Guerin said. “Now our ice is under one roof. That’s helped our numbers this past year.
“This past season was the first that both sheets of ice were there for the full season. Cutting down on travel absolutely has helped our enrollments.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.