Thanks to hockey parent David Muzzatti for sharing this story about his own experience in the Ann Arbor area.
“What the heck is this?”
I can’t recall the number of times I said this to myself back in the autumn of 2016 as my 10-year-old son Jack was practicing with his Ann Arbor Squirt house league team – The Aces. The coaching staff was fantastic, but they kept whipping out these drills that had nothing to do with skating. I mean, all I hear these days is how the game has changed to the degree that if you can’t skate, your child has no hope of advancing in minor hockey let alone junior & beyond. “Why aren’t they skating?”
Last autumn, I began taking pictures of my son Jack at the multitude of team practices. Apparently, the folks at USA Hockey think that more practices than games is the way to go. “What the heck is this?”
I also began taking pictures of all the kids on The Aces, observing their skills first-hand. By the time the next practice rolled around (are we ever going to play a game?), I was taking shots of all the kids and coaches, downloading them and sending them off to all the parents in an email blast. One day, a coach from one of the four house teams asked me if I wouldn’t mind taking pictures for the Ann Arbor Hockey Association house league’s first Squirt level ‘Candy Cup Tournament’ in October.
“Sure,” I said.
In my mind I was saying, “What the heck is a ‘Candy Cup’?”
The ‘Candy Cup’ was a Squirt-age house-league tournament whereby all four teams participated in a round-robin set-up using a half-ice format. One coach commandeered a miniature 36-inch-high Stanley Cup that had its bowl filled with candy that went to the winners. Ironically, this was the same Stanley Cup I donated to the Ann Arbor Hockey Association’s youth program 10 years earlier. The coaches advised the parents and the participants that the purpose of these half-ice games was to not only allow for the kids to get as many puck touches as possible, but to teach them the skills involved in handling their body and the puck in congested situations. Over the course of six months and seven Candy Cup Tournaments, I shot hundreds and hundreds of photographs, mainly from behind the benches of all four house league teams. Essentially, as a parent, I had a coach’s view of all four teams, their players and their development.
Did these kids ever develop!
As a personal example, my son Jack split his time from September to December as a goalie and player. By the time Christmas rolled around, he made the decision to leave the pads in the Vaughn bag and play out full-time. The coaching staff was only too kind to grant him his wish. Well, flash forward to April 2017 and my soon to be 11-year-old son almost made the Ann Arbor Wolverines ‘AA’ 2005 travel team, but did make the Ann Arbor Wolverines ‘A’ 2006 travel team.
How do opportunities like this happen?
As I said in a telephone conversation with (American Development Model regional manager) Bob Mancini several weeks ago, this achievement could never have been realized if it were not for the USA Hockey ADM and the coaches from the local community who implemented and supported it. Truth be told, each player from all four Ann Arbor house league teams made enormous strides in their development through not only their ADM-structured practices, but the half dozen or so ADM-supported Candy Cup Tournaments. The tournaments were the straw that stirred the drink. As someone who had a bench view, the half-ice games were the tool that repaired their deficiencies, got them motivated and had them skating in the right direction.
Like I said over the phone, “I get giddy just talking about the progress of these kids!”
You need definitive proof? All four house league teams made at least the semi-finals of the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League Playoffs in Trenton, Michigan! My son’s team (The Aces) played an Ann Arbor house league team in the semi-finals & won. The Aces went on to defeat their main rival from Ann Arbor in the finals to take the championship. The fourth Ann Arbor team won their respective division championship as well. What the heck is this? None of this would’ve have been possible if those kids did not have their coaches and the ADM to support their development. It’s that simple.
As Canadians by birth, my wife (Sandy) and I have hockey in our blood. Sandy and I were involved with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program from its inception in 1997. In addition, we have been season ticket holders for University of Michigan hockey from 2000-2017, and I played adult league hockey at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube for several years. Over time, we have sat back and watched USA Hockey climb to the top of the mountain several times. I thought Team USA’s performance at the World Junior Championship this past winter was the greatest hockey I’ve ever seen. I thought Team USA’s performance at the Women’s World Championship a few weeks ago in Plymouth was the greatest hockey I’ve ever seen.
I was wrong.
Spending the last six months watching 9 and 10-year-olds being cast and molded through the American Development Model, and watching most all of the them reach the top of the mountain is the single greatest hockey spectacle I have ever seen. My son would’ve never gotten a sniff of travel tryouts if it were not for this approach to developing young hockey players.
Jack begins his life in travel hockey after four months as a full-time Squirt house league player on April 24th.
What the heck is this?