Rhode Island has a long history of developing top-notch hockey players who went on to play at the collegiate, professional and even Olympic level.
But when the number of boys registering to play youth hockey started to decline, the Rhode Island Saints took steps to reverse that direction.
“Hockey has become very competitive and there is an ice crunch in Rhode Island,” said Saints Development Director Mike Cordeiro. “That’s why we’re trying to revise the whole thing.”
As a result, the Saints implemented a multi-pronged approach designed to attract more boys to the sport.
Last season, the Saints implemented their first Grow-the-Game Learn-to-Skate Program, a free nine-week session open to boys between the ages of 4 and 8.
“We got kids that never played hockey before and they tried it,” Cordeiro said. “We wanted to break down the barriers and create a fun and enjoyable environment which would entice more kids to play hockey.
“We ended up with 42 [new] kids last summer.”
Helping matters was an arrangement the Saints made with Smithfield Ice Rink Manager T.J. Tully to provide ice time. Ray’s Hockey Shop provided the equipment at cost, and the Saints provided the coaches and expertise.
In addition, last year the organization established its first Future Saints Learn-to-Play Hockey program for boys ages 4 through 8.
The Future Saints serves as a family’s introduction to the Rhode Island Saints and provides an initial exposure to the development process.
The emphasis is for players to have fun and enjoy the game of hockey, while at the same time, developing solid, fundamental skills.
“We did this because we wanted to develop hockey in Rhode Island,” Cordeiro said. “We also felt we had the right model to help develop players – the right expertise – with all of these kids.”
After participating in the Learn-to-Skate and Learn-to-Play-Hockey programs boys “graduate” to Grammar Development, a mite house league.
This league is designed for boys who have a good skating foundation and who are looking to develop their skills at a higher level.
“This is a well-structured program,” Cordeiro said. “We have all levels so kids progress to each level when they’re ready.
“If a kid is a squirt and comes to us and never has played hockey before, we put him in the Learn-to-Skate program. I’m not going to tell a 9-year-old kid he can’t play.”
Another key factor in making the endeavor a success is the Saints’ coaching staff.
“The key aspect is we bring in qualified coaches,” Cordeiro said. “Some are high school coaches with a lot of experience. We bring them in to coach the younger kids.
“We have coaches who are experienced and have played college hockey. It’s all about experienced coaching at all levels.”
This season the Saints will suit up teams at the 10U minor and major levels, the 12U minor and major levels, the 14U minor level and the 16U major 18U level.
But expansion is a possibility, spurred by the fact that the Saints no longer have to worry about securing ice time.
“The ice issue has been solved,” Cordeiro said. “We’ve acquired ice at Smithfield, West Warwick and Burrillville. Going forward, our ice time is stable enough to accommodate our expansion to go along with our Learn-to-Skate and our Grow-the Game programs.”
The Saints travel teams play in Boston’s Elite 9 Hockey League.
“We play in a tough, top-level program,” Cordeiro said. “We have teams at all levels and we’re striving to be on top.
“It’s a great program because it makes you strive to get better so you can compete at the highest level.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.