There’s no magic formula for growing a hockey association.
The Palm Beach Blackhawks have done it the old-fashioned way in Florida with quality coaches and teaching fundamentals, and it’s resulted in on-ice success and NHL alumni.
“Our program has been growing over the years,” said Co-Director and Program Administrator Mimi Sellian. “Our house program has grown, which helps our travel program. We have a lot of young players and must start focusing on them.
“Hockey is becoming popular and we want to develop the players. The young players want to get into hockey and we want to help develop them. With the success of the NHL teams in Florida, hockey has become increasingly popular.”
Another reason the Blackhawks have become so popular is the fact they’ve developed some high-end players — most notably the Philadelphia Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere, a member of USA Hockey’s gold medal-winning 2013 U.S. National Junior Team, and Arizona Coyotes top draft pick Jakob Chychrun.
“Local kids like Shane and Jakob have helped make hockey a popular sport that kids want to play,” said Co-Director Nic Robillard. “That’s why our 8U program is getting bigger and bigger.”
The growth and importance of the 8U program, and older levels as well, to the Blackhawks can be attributed in part to USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
“We’ve fully immersed ourselves in the ADM,” said Robillard. “We follow the model so our kids have the skills to move on to a higher level.
“What we like most is that it builds a foundation — having fun, playing cross-ice games and developing a passion for the game. There’s so much that the ADM provides for the kids and the coaches that it builds a foundation which sets them up for success in their hockey careers.”
The Blackhawks are embarking on their third season with the ADM and Sellian admitted that the first year was “the hardest sell.” But now, the ADM is simply accepted as the standard. For the players, it’s fun and efficient skill development, which the parents appreciate.
“It’s the culture of hockey and it’s our responsibility to educate the parents,” said Robillard. “We have seminars with our parents to explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
The Blackhawks’ coaches play a leading role in ensuring that the program delivers a high-quality experience.
“All of our coaches are teachers,” said Robillard. “Our coaches have to wear a lot of hats. You must be a teacher on and off the ice. The best coaches we look for are ones who embody a passion for the game and are excited about teaching.
“They probably had a great coach who had an impact on them.”
Players are also impacted by what the Blackhawks do in an attempt to grow the game.
“We participate in try-hockey-for-free days,” said Robillard. “We have all the equipment. We offer classes for learn-to-play-hockey and try-hockey-for-free. We go into local elementary schools and provide street hockey equipment in order to hopefully get them into the rink."
“We try to expose kids to a world in which they may never go otherwise.”
In addition, the Blackhawks also emphasize the importance of academics.
“First, we say you need to be a student-athlete with ‘student’ coming first,” said Robillard. “Our coaches keep track of their grades.
“Hockey is a privilege to play. That’s why we stress academics.”
Conversely, the Blackhawks don’t put a disproportionate emphasis on winning, even though the organization has experienced a great deal of success.
Last season, for example, seven teams reached the state finals and four captured state championships. One, the 12U AA team, won the Southeast District title.
“We don’t want to sacrifice developing skills for the sake of winning,” said Robillard. “If we do it the right way and do our job to develop them properly, including off-ice training, the wins will come.
“This past season was a testament to that. We saw the fruits of our labor with having so many teams in championship finals.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.