Player development and growth are nurtured at Massachusetts association
Before Jonathan Ring became an assistant coach for the Nashoba Youth Hockey Association 8U team in 2017, the closest he’d ever been to the sport was playing a couple years of recreational youth hockey as a 7-year-old in Seeknok, Massachusetts.
“I barely even remember it,” Ring recalled with a laugh.
Baseball was Ring’s passion. His dream as a kid was to one day play for the Boston Red Sox. While he never got the chance to smack balls off the Green Monster, Ring played high school and American Legion ball before eventually coaching his son Holden’s T-ball team.
It was there that Ring met Brant Berglund, board member and coach of the NYHA 8U team. Berglund’s son, Alex, also played T-ball, and Berglund began talking to Ring about becoming a coach in his program. No hockey experience? No problem. Although he didn’t know it at the time, Ring was using some of the same concepts to coach baseball that USA Hockey has adopted for its American Development Model, including station-based practices. That approach, along with his ability to get the most out of his kids, impressed Berglund.
“He’s a fantastic youth coach,” Berglund said. “Even in baseball, the kids are never standing still. It was a phenomenal thing to watch.”
Once he was convinced his lack of hockey experience was not an issue, Ring began to educate himself on the best way to get kids to enjoy the game and have fun, while developing them to their full hockey potential.
“The first year went pretty quick; it was 10 weeks,” Ring said. “It was really the second year that I dived into more of the ADM long-term development [principles], and bought into what USA Hockey was saying in how practices should be run at that age level.”
Berglund played hockey through high school. After contemplating whether to play in college as a walk-on, he enrolled at Boston University and became a coaching assistant, helping out with the team’s video production. A year after graduating, he landed a job with the Boston Bruins as their video coach. Following the birth of his two children, Berglund decided he wanted to spend more time with his family, so he left the Bruins and took a job at a company overseeing hockey products.
Once his kids were old enough, Berglund signed them up for Nashoba’s learn-to-skate program. He then met Amy Lowe, director of initiation programs and girls hockey. When Berglund mentioned his background, Lowe encouraged him to join as a coach.
Berglund coached both the 10U girls team and the 8U team. He thought he knew what it took to develop a player, until he was introduced to the ADM.
“It was quite an experience jumping on the ice, having not coached any league below high school level,” Berglund admitted. “The USA Hockey stuff was critical. You get on the ice and you have a plan. If it takes you too long to explain the drill to the coaches you’re working with, you shouldn’t be doing it with your kids.”
Lowe, who played hockey in Stoneham, Massachusetts, and four years at Harvard, joined NYHA in 2003. Her daughter, Katie, was 8 and her son, David, was 5 when she signed them up for learn-to-skate. Both went through the entire program, and currently play intramural hockey at Quinnipiac University, often competing against each other. When Lowe became involved as a coach and director, she developed a mindset that is the cornerstone of NYHA’s mission today.
“My philosophy was simple,” she explained. “I’m not going to base my success or failure on wins and losses. My success or failure is going to be determined by how many of these kids sign up for hockey next year.”
NYHA is a regional program that reaches kids in Westford, Littleton, Tyngsboro, and other Massachusetts towns near the New Hampshire border. Along with instructional programs and youth travel teams, it fields full-season girls-only teams at the 10U and 12U levels, and half-season teams in 16U through 19U in the Valley Hockey League and Middlesex Conference Girls Hockey League.
Using the ADM as a guide, NYHA is building what Berglund calls “hometown hockey,” encouraging kids to foster a sense of community and camaraderie that comes with playing together for a year at one level, then going to the next, whether they stay together or move apart.
To address concerns parents have about equipment and other costs, Lowe secured funding for learn-to-play sessions through the KDK Memorial Foundation and the Mike Cheever Grow Hockey Grant.
Lowe sums up NYHA’s hometown approach with one rule of thumb she learned from her parents when it came to sports.
“The day it stops being fun is the day you quit,” she said.
That hometown appeal, along with visionary coaches like Ring, Berglund and Lowe, is building an atmosphere that is sure to keep kids and their parents coming back to their town team year after year.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.