The Ann Arbor Amateur Hockey Association can’t get enough of 8U cross-ice jamborees. Judging from the participation numbers, its players can’t either.
The association takes part in one of these nearly every month, in which players get the chance to play games on smaller ice, with increased touches of the puck and more skill development repetitions. Participation has continued to grow. The AAAHA has 64 8U players registered this year, which is an increase of 24 players from last year.
“We’ve set up a routine where it’s once a month,” said AAAHA Mite Division Coordinator Steve Armstrong, whose association has a total of 600 players. “The kids have a great time … at any one time, you have 60 kids playing hockey at one moment. It’s staggering when you stop to think about it. You have 30 kids on each sheet for three hours.”
Ann Arbor isn’t alone. Youth hockey associations throughout the state of Michigan have held more and more cross-ice tournaments for 8U players and have seen more and more kids get involved. Last month, jamborees and tournaments were held throughout the state in Ann Arbor, Marquette, Rockford, Traverse City and Troy.
“Compared to a few years ago, our numbers are probably double where they were,” said George Atkinson, president of Michigan Amateur Hockey Association. “Every year we’ve run this, we’ve had more (players) than we’ve ever had before.”
“People are becoming more informed and getting a better understanding for the American Development Model and how it improves player development,” Atkinson said. “USA Hockey has produced some good videos to get the word out. The NHL analytics video about more puck touches, how working in small areas helped. The misconception out there was that playing half-ice or cross-ice was for lesser players, but that video, and other studies like it, showed how playing on a smaller surface benefits every 8U player, regardless of their where they are in their development. It provides more challenge for the advanced player, more opportunity for the under-developed player and more skill reps for everyone.
“I think the other thing is you’re starting to see other sports embracing similar mindsets. The U.S. Olympic Committee adopted the ADM across all sports; lacrosse, basketball, soccer – they’re all embracing small-sided, small-area play for their youth now. Whereas, 4-5 years ago, hockey was ahead of everyone, now other sports are doing the same. People are getting the same message in the other sports they’re participating in and it’s starting to make more sense.”
The ADM message clicked for Armstrong years ago. He was teaching similar philosophies when he was coaching high school hockey, and now he’s doing the same at the 8U level.
“It blows my mind that some people actually fight this,” said Armstrong, who has a son playing 8U hockey. “The ADM makes so much sense. Maybe it’s the teacher in me. It seems logical. The last couple years, with the analysis coming out, the numbers make sense, the number of touches, etc. I’m a science teacher. It just all makes sense to me that this is the way you did it. It just makes sense to me to have the space-appropriate games for these kids.
“And our kids have had a blast. We’ve had zero pushback on it. It’s nothing but positives from the responses I’ve gotten from our families.”
With all the interest at the 8U level, Michigan held an inaugural 8U cross-ice state championship in March. The association had 70-plus teams participate in the tournament in Troy, Michigan, and the event was a success for all involved. Atkinson added that, with 80 percent of the rinks now having hard board ice dividers, that has also helped the parents recognize the benefits of cross-ice games.
“When the people [attend] the jamborees, everyone loves them,” Atkinson said. “Everyone has fun.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.