As association president, Lynn Bassler knows what an invaluable resource USA Hockey has been for the Elmira Jackals Youth Hockey Association.
The Jackals long ago embraced the American Development Model, and haven’t looked back.
At first, parents didn’t quite understand how small-ice games meant more touches of the puck and improved development. But they caught on quickly.
“Once it was explained why USA Hockey was supporting [the ADM], our parents saw the benefit of it. Change is hard for some people,” Bassler said.
The Jackals, based in southern New York, have built a strong foundation at the 8U level.
Key in that effort is the mini-mite program, specially designed to meet the needs of beginning players.
Basic skills are taught in a non-competitive environment with fun and physical development stressed within a more social atmosphere.
“Our mini-mite program is our introduction-to-hockey program,” Bassler said. “For most kids, it’s learning to skate. Most of our mini-mites haven’t even skated before.”
The focus is on skating, but the Jackals also introduce some of the basics of puck work.
The Jackals also have a house league for 8U players. In fact, it is so popular that several years ago they established “Mite Mania,” an annual tournament that’s planned, hosted and sponsored by the 8U players.
“Every year it’s held over Martin Luther King weekend,” Bassler said. “We offer red, white and blue divisions for different levels of play.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had 25 teams sign up and play over the weekend. The dads that organized it get a lot of credit. It’s very well-run and well organized and we guarantee teams get to play at least four games over the weekend.”
In addition, participants have an opportunity to see a game involving the city’s ECHL team, the Elmira Jackals.
Boys who’ve “graduated” from mini-mites and 8U have two options: they can try out for travel teams or play in what the association calls the Snowbelt League.
“Every spring we have an evaluation or tryout process for anybody interested in playing on travel teams,” Bassler said. “We bring in some unbiased coaches to evaluate players based on skating ability, hockey sense and puck handling.
“Everybody is assigned a score and the boys with the highest scores are offered the opportunity to play on our travel teams.”
Boys whose scores may not be as high can play in the Snowbelt League.
“They both travel,” Bassler said. “The primary difference is our travel teams are playing with the ultimate goal of going to state championships. Travel teams are trying to qualify for state tournaments, whereas the Snowbelt League teams seasons end with the league tournament.”
Try-hockey-for-free days also have helped the association attract new players.
“On average, we have about 25 participants with minimal skating experience, but 60 to 70 percent that participate do sign up to play,” Bassler said. “We offer a discounted registration rate for those who choose to come back.
“This is designed for boys with little or no skating experience. For boys with some skating skills, they move through four or five stations to learn some basic hockey skills. Then, for the last 10 to 15 minutes, they play a small scrimmage.”
Volunteers from outside and inside also serve to enhance the popularity of the Jackals.
“We have quite a few players from the Elmira College hockey team that help us and they’re fantastic,” Bassler said. “They volunteer whenever they can.
“At the beginning of our season, they help run practices. It’s nice because our kids see what they can aspire to become. I think it’s exciting for them.”
That level of excitement might be doubled when boys from within the association show up at practices.
“Within our own organization, our bantams come to practices for mites and mini-mites to help out and show the kids what it’s like to be a better player,” Bassler said. “Our kids love to see the older kids in the organization.
“We want our older kids to mentor our younger kids as they age in the sport.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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