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Coaching Symposium, Skill Development Clinics Spurring Momentum for Massachusetts Hockey

By Stephen Kerr, 12/06/17, 11:00AM MST

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Bruins and USA Hockey encourage coaches and players in New England

One of Massachusetts Hockey’s key objectives is providing the best experience for its membership, both on and off the ice. This not only includes growth and development of athletes, but also arming coaches with the information and resources to deliver that experience to players and their families.

To that end, more than 400 youth hockey coaches from around the state gathered for the 7th annual High Performance Coaching Symposium, hosted by the Boston Bruins at their practice facility Nov. 4.

The symposium gave coaches an opportunity to learn from their peers at the NHL level, and discover new ways of presenting USA Hockey’s American Development Model to their teams. 

“The [Bruins organization] buys into this idea,” said Kevin Kavanagh, Massachusetts Hockey’s executive director. “This is one of the events that’s on the calendar each year. It’s a fun way to give that experience and education to our coaches.”

A prime example of the Bruins’ commitment was especially evident at this year’s symposium. The team was scheduled to play the Washington Capitals later that evening, yet they allowed access to both their facilities and coaching staff. This made quite an impression on the youth coaches and USA Hockey representatives, including ADM Regional Manager Roger Grillo.

“Their entire coaching staff spoke,” said Grillo, who covers the New England territory. “We’re talking head coach, all the assistants, goalie coach, strength coach … It speaks volumes from the ownership all the way down through the coaching staff of their commitment to the community and to youth hockey here in the region.”

The robust attendance is particularly noteworthy, since many coaches gave up a Saturday game day.

“Most of them are missing a game to be there,” Kavanagh explained. “But at the end of the day, they realize the benefit from missing that one game of coaching, versus what they’ll be able to bring back to their team, is ten-fold.”

Along with a pre-game skate by the Bruins players and individual presentations by the coaches, the eight-hour symposium included sessions on body contact and checking techniques, goaltending, and breakout sessions from USA Hockey’s ADM and youth personnel. Coaches could also obtain or increase their certification, although it wasn’t a requirement to attend.

More positive momentum in Massachusetts

Another well-received Massachusetts Hockey initiative began taking shape last year, focusing on educating first-year 14U players contemplating a future with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program or at the collegiate level. Grillo, who played at the University of Maine and was the head coach at Brown University, used his background and college contacts to form a partnership with area universities to host skill development sessions during the season. In 2016, Boston College, Boston University and Merrimack College each held an event. Four schools signed on for this season, including Harvard, Northeastern, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Holy Cross.

“13, 12, even 11 is way too early to start identifying true high-end players,” Kavanagh explained. “But at 14, we saw a good window to take a high-end level player and give them opportunities to learn about what it takes to make that next step.”

Currently, only 100 players are chosen to participate in each skill session, which occurs once a month on a Sunday evening. Coaches from youth leagues around the state recommend up to five of the best 14U players from their teams, and each player receives an invitation. Sessions include one hour of on-ice training, with an emphasis on body contact, touches and repetitions. Another hour is devoted to presentations on proper nutrition, strength training, sleep habits, social media awareness, and other issues kids and their families should consider if they hope to continue the sport at a higher level. Separate sessions are also held for female players ages 13 and 14, utilizing many of the same concepts as the male athletes.

Grillo is pleased with the program’s response, and hopes to expand it throughout the New England region and beyond.

“This particular format hasn’t been duplicated yet in other parts of the country,” he said. “I think it will down the road.”

Kavanagh would like to see more players have the opportunity to participate. “We hope to take this model that we’re using and make it more available to the rest of our membership,” he said. “That’s certainly something I anticipate next year being able to do. There are a lot of players here in Massachusetts. To limit ourselves to only a small group is doing everyone a disservice. Not every kid is going to be an NCAA Division I or even a Division III player. That’s OK. We want kids to get better at the sport, enjoy playing it, and we want to see a hockey-for-life mentality.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc. Photo Courtesy of David Le.

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