With its seven bridges, sparkling beaches, and world-famous wine country, Long Island is an attractive beachfront community for tourists and residents alike. Even the holidays are abuzz with activity, including the annual Charles Dickens Festival and Christmas at Old Westbury Gardens, with Christmas trees, wreaths and other beautifully decorated arrangements highlighting the spirit of the season.
As the home of the New York Islanders, Long Island has a rich hockey tradition as well. The Islanders have also demonstrated a commitment to the development of youth hockey through USA Hockey and its American Development Model.
Over the past 12 years, the club has hosted its 8U Jamboree, held in November at the Northwell Health Ice Center, the Islanders’ practice facility.
The 2018 cross-ice jamboree took place Nov. 25, with 18 8U and 6U teams from Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, Queens and Connecticut. It was the biggest turnout in the event’s history. The jamboree is held in conjunction with USA Hockey’s Try Hockey Month. This year’s event just happened to land on Thanksgiving weekend.
“That actually worked in our favor,” said Jocelyne Cummings, Islanders director of hockey development. “We try and do all the USA Hockey initiatives as much as we can as an NHL club. We always want the jamboree [to be] the next step of Try Hockey and learn-to-play.”
USA Hockey ADM regional manager Rich Hansen, who grew up on Long Island, says the Islanders’ Jamboree brings a pond hockey mentality to kids, particularly at the younger age level.
“In an environment like a jamboree, where there’s no score, the coaches can stay back and facilitate the game and kids can just go out there and compete,” explained Hansen, whose region covers New York and the Atlantic District. “That’s the environment in which kids will learn the most.”
Each team played six cross-ice games over a six-hour period, using the USA Hockey intermediate-size nets for 8U teams. Games were 15 minutes each, and no team played the same opponent twice. Cummings, who spent six years as the Islanders’ manager of amateur hockey development before being promoted to her current position late last month, says the objective is to demonstrate to kids and parents that it’s OK to enjoy the game while learning at the same time.
“It’s all about having fun, sportsmanship, promoting the game in the correct light,” she said. “And it’s constant movement.”
All teams were required to bring at least one coach to help on the ice. Cummings and her staff used club interns to make sure teams knew when they were playing, and shuttled them on and off the ice in an efficient manner. Sparky the Dragon, the Islanders’ official mascot, thrilled the kids and spectators with a guest appearance.
“We always make it work, and it runs smoothly,” Cummings said. “We actually were 20 minutes ahead of schedule this year, which is incredible.”
The Islanders use events like the 8U Jamboree to create interest in hockey at the grassroots level. Their mission is twofold: to grow and promote the game, and help every individual player to go as far as they can in the sport. Their youth initiative includes the Junior Islanders Tier I program, and six all-girls teams. According to Cummings, USA Hockey’s learn-to-play initiative has helped foster the game and keep it affordable for kids and their families.
“When we first started learn-to-play, we were only in three rinks, and now we’re in 13 rinks,” Cummings explained. “Next year, we’ll probably be in 15 or 16.”
Cummings believes the jamboree helps put hockey in the proper perspective for kids and parents.
“Sometimes in sports, everyone gets so wrapped up in winning and losing,” she said. “This [event] is about cheering on your teammates and positive attitudes. Everyone’s learning at the same level. I’m not saying everyone should get a trophy, but at this age, they all should be having fun.”
Hansen agrees, noting that one of the goals of the ADM is to keep kids involved in the sport as long as possible, thereby providing more opportunity for normal- and late-bloomers to develop and realize their full potential.
“At the young ages especially, it’s nearly impossible to say who’s going to be great and who’s not in the long term,” Hansen said. “But what you can predict is that the majority of the kids are going to end up becoming parents. Hopefully, they’ll give back to the sport, whether they’re referees, facilitators, or coaches. If we make the experience good for the kids, it’s more likely they’ll be back as players, and later, give back to the game as parents.”
Such is the philosophy of an organization committed to the belief that it’s possible to enjoy hockey while developing the skills needed to get to the next level.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.