As a kid growing up in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, Brandon Koontz had a childhood filled with memories. Koontz played competitive hockey all the way up through high school.
Once Koontz moved to Illinois, however, he found adult hockey. During the next 20 years, Koontz slowly moved into more of a managerial role in adult hockey. He eventually moved back to Minnesota and took a job as ice operations manager at Schwan Super Rink in Blaine. He also took on leadership positions as the director of adult hockey for Minnesota Hockey and as a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Council.
We recently sat down with Koontz to discuss adult hockey and how he and others are working to grow the sport both in Minnesota and throughout the U.S.
USA Hockey: What have you done to try to grow adult hockey in Minnesota?
Brandon Koontz: Within Minnesota, we’re always looking to find new ways to create new opportunities for adults to play hockey. The biggest thing in Minnesota is that we lack a state tournament. We’re kind of looking to develop something like that. We’re looking at a couple different options for that to start and then grow. The more adult players we have in the state, the better all hockey becomes. Everybody’s supporting each other.
USA Hockey: What is the focus nationally when it comes to growing adult hockey?
Koontz: Nationally, there are two focuses. One is trying to find new programs and bring them into the USA Hockey family. Bring them in as part of the group – they feed the tournaments. Having leagues is a huge piece of that. We also want to say thank you to those who have been loyal to USA Hockey. We’re finding retention and giving things to people because they have been a player for 10 years or 20 years or 80 years. We want to make sure you want to be a player next year. Some people feel like they register and they don’t get anything. We want them to get something besides a safe place and skilled officials. We want to give them a little warm-fuzzy, whether that’s a patch or a coin or a discount to a tournament. Just some of those things to say thank you, and also thinking about how to better maintain and recruit new people.
USA Hockey: What is your advice to others when it comes to growing adult hockey in their respective area?
Koontz: The first thing I always tell everyone is to have their league register with USA Hockey. The support you get … there’s always more opportunities like tournaments that you might not know exist without USA Hockey. It’s great to have that time to be with your buddies on the rink or all these different places with these great events. You don’t get to be a part of it if you’re not a part of the USA Hockey family. Get in touch with your affiliate, whatever it is. Start that conversation with your affiliate and piggyback off what they’re doing and build those relationships. It’ll help you grow your leagues and find new participants and new ways to make everything great.
USA Hockey: How has the NHL helped in the development of adult hockey?
Koontz: We’ve done a lot in our partnership with the Minnesota Wild. The NHL has a partnership with USA Hockey already and the USA Hockey Adult Council has done stuff with NHL groups. Those partnerships have gotten us discounts, ice time. I think that is a huge partnership that helps grows the game. It helps grows officials, too. It’s another place for them to stay sharp on their skills when it comes to the offseason.