Over two years ago, California Heat Hockey Director Alec Benson-Dunn began moving his club toward achieving status as a USA Hockey Model Association in accordance with the American Development Model (ADM).
The program went from one full-ice and one half-ice practice per week to all small-area/station-based practices. Dryland and off-ice training was increased, and the club began placing greater emphasis on building well-rounded athletes, not just hockey players.
The transition is paying dividends. Benson-Dunn has not only seen improvement in skill development, but also an increase in the number of players returning compared to previous seasons. Last month, USA Hockey announced the Heat had earned Model Association status, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to provide skill development and programming in accordance with ADM concepts.
“We started hearing about model development and the good things that were coming out of it,” explained Benson-Dunn, a USA Hockey Level 5-certified coach and the Heat’s hockey director since 2012. “It made our coaching staff more united. As players go, when they see what we have to offer in the offseason, it makes a far easier transition to understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, the club makes its home at the Valley Ice Center, one of several southern California rinks sponsored by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. Originally known as the West Valley Wolves, the program changed its name to the Heat in 2012. Founded in 1991, it is one of the oldest clubs in the Southern California Amateur Hockey Association (SCAHA).
The Heat currently has nine teams from 8U to 16U. Though it’s currently not a AAA program, Benson-Dunn has seen many of his players advance to AAA status with other clubs, as well as junior, college and professional teams.
The benefits of being a USA Hockey Model Association go beyond what takes place on the ice. Benson-Dunn, who played for the West Valley Wolves as a youth, takes pride in developing sportsmanship and leadership skills his players can use even after their hockey playing days are over. Some players have helped run practices for the California Condors, the first-ever ice hockey program in the state for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
“When [our players] first started, they were a little hesitant,” Benson-Dunn recalled with a chuckle. “As the years went on, they were really looking forward to going out there with those players. They had more fun sometimes than the kids, just because it’s a different experience, and they really felt like they were helping and giving back.”
Many youth programs around the country have experienced steady growth from USA Hockey’s Try Hockey for Free Day, held in the fall and spring of each year. At the Heat’s first Try Hockey Day two years ago, about 14 skaters participated. Last spring, more than 70 kids showed up.
“Each time, it’s gotten better and better,” Benson-Dunn said. “You see these kids that can’t skate at all, some of them are crying … By the end of it, they’re laughing and having fun. Over the months, you start to see them coming back to the rink, learning how to skate, and developing from there.”
At the suggestion of USA Hockey’s ADM Technical Director Ken Martel, the club began using figure skaters and professional figure skating coaches to work with young players for the learn-to-skate program. Benson-Dunn enlisted the help of his fiancé, former figure skater Nan Sanguansap, along with the coaching staff and Heat players to teach the younger kids basic fundamentals of skating.
“Figure skating coaches teach skating; that’s what they do,” Martel explained. “They tend to, especially the ones in entry level programs, have lots more experience teaching skating to little kids. A lot of rinks around the country have people with that expertise.”
Benson-Dunn believes the greatest strength of his program is his coaching staff, and their total commitment to the ADM process. Aram Defterderian, the Heat’s 8U ADM director and coach, is completely on board.
“I’m really excited to see how USA Hockey can benefit us as coaches and as a club,” Defterderian said. “I believe in the program and in the system, and I just want to make sure what they are [communicating] is what we’re also saying as to how we need to run it.”
As the Heat prepare for the 2018-19 season, Benson-Dunn wants to capitalize on his club’s new model status and continue to push forward using ADM concepts.
“I’d like to see us really be steadfast in how we’re approaching the game, making sure we’re always optimistic,” Benson-Dunn said. “We’re making sure our players always leave the rink sweating and with a smile on their face.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.