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A Hockey Hotbed in Northern Michigan

By Tyler Mason - Special to, 11/20/15, 10:00AM MST


Community involvement, ADM powers Marquette Youth Hockey

In Marquette, Michigan, hockey is a way of life.

It gets cold in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the winter, but residents of Marquette embrace it. Many in the town have their own backyard rinks – and special equipment to help maintain those rinks.

In short, the sport provides a sense of community there.

“It’s all about hockey up here,” said John Way, the mite director for the Marquette Youth Hockey Association.

That love for the sport has been evident in Marquette’s youth hockey ranks. The MYHA had just four mite teams when Way took over, but today, Marquette boasts 12 mite teams – six 8U teams and six 6U teams (not to mention four peewee squads and four squirt teams).

According to Way, much of that growth can be credited to the association’s adoption of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, which was put in place by the MYHA about five or six years ago.

“Since the implementation of the ADM, we’ve more than doubled the size of the group,” Way said. “It allows a better system for flat-out teaching kids, keeping them moving on the ice and keeping them happy. At the end of the day, if the kids weren’t happy with the new system, we’d have smaller numbers. But the fact is, our program has doubled, and then some, so obviously the kids and parents are happy with the experience. Our dropout rate is pretty much nil.”

The Marquette Youth Hockey Association has had so much success with its programs that kids from as far as an hour away make the commute to take part, Way said. And when it comes to fielding competitive teams, Marquette’s 8U teams are among the best in the region.

“In the 8U division, it’s tough to find a team that can compete with us,” Way said. “Five years ago, everybody was pretty much on the same level playing field. But now we’re head and shoulders above the region as far as our ability.”

The ADM implementation has provided many benefits for Marquette, including enhanced skill development with station-based practices that are a staple of USA Hockey-affiliated associations. The more subtle residual benefits are intriguing, too.

Among them is the closeness of the players – and coaches and parents – of each Marquette team. Way said the 8U groups often have up to 20 volunteers on the ice helping. It’s an impressive display of passion and unity. And because of the station-based format, the kids are always engaged and active.

“It brings a lot of togetherness in the groups,” Way said. “With us, we’ve got so many helping hands involved that it seems like there isn’t one person doing it; everybody does it. The whole village is involved.”

That’s a phrase Way uses often: it takes a village. That’s been exemplified with the Marquette Youth Hockey Association, where so many people from the town of about 21,000 pitch in to help.

It also takes a village to manage Marquette’s learn-to-skate program, which has between 80 and 100 kids, ages 3 to 8. That program has used many of the ADM principles, including stations that help things move along smoothly and efficiently. To get kids comfortable on the ice, they’ll also play other sports like basketball or whiffle ball on the ice just to get their feet under them.

From there, the hope is that they’ll move onto Marquette’s organized teams. As Way alluded to, the associations’ retention rate remains high – and the ADM is a big reason for it.

“Our motto is you play like you practice, so if you want to play hard and win games, then you’ve got to practice hard and you’ve got to win at that,” Way said. “We drilled that in from a young age. Kids seem to respond to it. Kids like to be challenged.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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