More than 10 years ago, USA Hockey’s Atlantic District set out to create an event that would support the American Development Model initiative, combining the aspects of cross-ice hockey with grouping teams into similar skill levels for 8U players.
At the same time, organizers wanted to begin the new season with a festive atmosphere, where kids could not only compete, but create fun memories that would last well beyond their hockey playing days.
The event became known as the 8U Cross-Ice Jamboree. In its first year, about 70 teams participated in Wayne, New Jersey’s Ice Vault. The jamboree became so successful that it was eventually expanded to include the Ice Works in Aston, Pennsylvania, and covered two consecutive weekends.
This year’s jamboree was held the weekend of Sept. 22 in Wayne, and the weekend of Sept. 29 in Aston. A total of 214 boys and girls teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware participated in skill development sessions and cross-ice games.
“We don’t keep score, and it promotes better hockey skills overall, more touches of the puck, more decision-making on the ice,” explained Maureen Thompson-Siegel, USA Hockey Atlantic Affiliate secretary and ADM Grow-the-Game coordinator.
Both locations received strong support from NHL clubs. The New Jersey Devils created a carnival-type atmosphere at the Wayne event, with an appearance by their mascot N.J. Devil, a barbecue, a live band, and a play area for the kids between games. At the Pennsylvania location, the Philadelphia Flyers unveiled their wild new mascot, Gritty, and allowed kids to play frisbee, football and other activities outside the rink. A number of former NHL players from both teams were on hand to sign autographs for the kids, including Brad Marsh, Bruce Driver and Colin White.
Thompson-Siegel believes both sites created the perfect blend of indoor hockey and outside entertainment to start off the new season.
“We’ve always been lucky over the last 9 or 10 years of doing this, that the weather on the weekends is magnificent,” she said. “We get a nice fall push. It’s just great all the way around.”
Before teams arrive, coaches are asked to provide information on their level of play to make matchups as similar as possible. Each team plays four half-ice mini-games a day, averaging about 30 minutes in length. After the first two games, kids get a two-hour break before returning for another pair of games. According to Tony D’Anna, a coach for the Montclair (New Jersey) Blues, the jamboree is a great way to gauge his team’s performance against opponents of similar skill level.
“You can kind of see where you are versus other clubs,” explained D’Anna, who has coached youth hockey since 1998. “In the end, you don’t want to be playing teams that you’re beating 20-1 [even though we’re not supposed to be keeping score, but everybody knows what the score is]. You get matchups where everybody is playing at equal strength. It’s a good guideline for us.”
In an effort to attract more referees to the sport, Thompson-Siegel gave new USA Hockey Level 1-certified referees an opportunity to officiate.
“It gives them experience,” she said. “We’re supporting the growth of the refereeing community at the same time as we’re supporting the introduction of hockey for the 8-and-under folks.”
An event of this magnitude requires hard work and dedication from a lot of coaches and volunteers. But at the end of the day, Thompson-Siegel says, it’s all worth it.
“It’s like herding cats, but it’s definitely the highlight of my year,” she said with a chuckle. “The kids are absolutely adorable. They’re having a ball, everybody’s smiling, it’s just such a positive event.”
Sean Clifford, a USA Hockey Level 4-certified coach of the Grundy Grizzlies in Pennsylvania, is an enthusiastic advocate of cross-ice hockey and other concepts of USA Hockey’s ADM promoted through the jamboree.
“I think cross-ice is the best thing for these kids,” he said. “It’s the last year of my son being in the jamboree. I love it. I think it’s amazing … I heard one of the parents say, after our second game, ‘Don’t run around; we’ve got two more games.’ I said, ‘They’re 7, 8 years old. Let them go have fun. Every tournament they go to, they’ll never remember the hockey. They’ll always remember what they do in between the hockey.’”
It’s that full hockey experience the Atlantic District Jamboree and events like it depend on to be successful year after year.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Carmo Photography.