Organized youth hockey in St. Louis sprouted six years before the Blues, in 1961, but when the NHL arrived, a surge of new players and rinks sprang forth in the newly cast Gateway Arch shadows.
Among the startups, in 1968, was a club in Kirkwood, founded by St. Louis hockey enthusiast Bill McKenna. Future Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine skated his first strides there, and today the Kirkwood Youth Hockey Association continues to thrive as a USA Hockey Model Association in Missouri. Its fervent focus on player development makes it a boon for hard-working youngsters, several of whom recently climbed to the St. Louis Blues AAA ranks after winning 12U state championships with Kirkwood. Five of the Blues’ 18 2004s will be Kirkwood graduates in the coming season, a total even more impressive when considering that Kirkwood trains only five percent of the players in greater St. Louis.
“Our emphasis is on skill work at every age level and for every skill level,” said KYHA President Steve Williamson. “We put the kids and their skill training first, and that really makes a difference.”
Kirkwood, which offers teams for 6U through 16U, doesn’t sponsor AAA hockey, but its position as a developer of AAA talent is undeniable. The association utilizes skill-specific coaches each week in addition to its own coaches to create an exemplary development environment, one that doesn’t lose sight of what matters most.
“Rather than emphasizing systems, we focus more on the skills,” said Williamson. “That’s helped our players develop their potential, which has turned into successful teams at a state championship-level.”
One example is Kirkwood’s 2016 state-champion 12U AA team. Five members of the team were house-level 10U players who blossomed into championship-caliber contributors two years later.
“We don’t give up on kids,” said Williamson. “We give every kid a fair shot and plenty of ice time at every level. Those kids that progressed from our house squirts to the peewee state championship are great examples of what can happen if you stay patient and skills-focused, and they made it to those teams by working hard.”
It’s just the latest example in what’s been a sterling run of 40-plus years on the ice in Kirkwood.
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