After two years of virtual gatherings, the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association hosted its first in-person Summer Meeting since 2019 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Grand Rapids, July 7-10.
Increasing participation in the sport, and making youth hockey a more inclusive environment for all, were the main topics of conversation at the 2022 MAHA Summer Meeting. The governing body also celebrated outstanding members of the hockey community, and finalized proposed rule changes for the upcoming season.
“While our numbers have rebounded from the drop we saw during the height of COVID-19, we, the hockey people of Michigan, must work harder to welcome more people to the game,” said MAHA president George Atkinson. “Hockey faces more barriers to entry than most other sports, so we all need to promote our game and make sure that everyone enjoys the experience.
“It was great to have youth hockey leaders from across the state together again in-person; we have missed the ability to congregate and exchange ideas and information with one another over these past few years.”
Meetings began on Thursday, July 7, while Saturday was dedicated to presentations from Atkinson, MAHA director of operations and marketing Jason Reynolds, keynote speaker John U. Bacon and Leigh Podlesny, a representative from Positive Coaching Alliance, MAHA’s newest partner.
Keynote speaker John U. Bacon telling the MAHA crowd about the inspiration behind his new book "Let Them Lead" and his hockey experiences as a coach and father. (Photo by Michael Caples/MAHA)
"Promoting the game of ice hockey to new families in Michigan has changed over the years, in many ways,” Reynolds said. “It's not an 'autopilot' process, like it once was about 20 years ago. New families have more options, new methods of communication, and more purchase considerations than ever before. As a statewide community, we have to highlight the membership experience in order to connect with new participants. The more attention to detail and effort we put into this exercise, the more success we'll see.
"The long-time volunteers from previous generations are being replaced by new volunteers, and many leadership positions turn over much more quickly. As a state-governing body, MAHA needs to focus more attention on providing support to the new leaders in our game -- whether it's in the day-to-day operation of their local organization or planning successful growth strategies."
USA Hockey’s Ken Martel and Katie Holmgren spoke to the constituency Saturday morning, with Martel putting the group through some ice-breaking activities to remind everyone of the five essential elements of a youth hockey practice:
Make it fun
Have the players engaging in constant decision making
Challenge the players
Make sure it looks like a game
Make sure there are plenty of puck touches for all
USA Hockey's Ken Martel took the MAHA members in attendance into a separate ballroom to put them through some exercises emphasizing his five points for a good practice. (Photo by Michael Caples/MAHA)
Volunteers engaging in one of Martel's examples. (Photo by Michael Caples/MAHA)
In his official report, Atkinson discussed how MAHA has rebounded over the last year:
8-And-Under numbers were up 28.7 percent from the previous season, and up 2 percent pre-pandemic.
Michigan outperformed the national average in both of those categories.
Michigan registered the most new 8U players (3,904) since USA Hockey has kept records on the subject.
Adult participation increased 26.9 percent but still substantially lower than pre-pandemic.
There were only minor rule changes approved at this year’s Summer Meeting. Some of the highlights include:
Girl’s Age and Division Classifications - Increase the girls’ Tier 1 19U out-of-state or important players from four to six; players must meet the Michigan residency policy.
Rules and Regulations for District and State Playoffs - Revised language; teams shall only be eligible in the age classification, category and division in which they play the majority of their games prior to Districts or States.
Definition of Rink Closest to Residence - Change the method of calculating the distance from one rink to another using Google’s driving distance, rather than point-to-point.
One proposal that was not adopted was an adjustment to the number of out-of-state players allowed at the Tier 1 level. The given proposal would have increased the total out-of-state players allowed; instead, the pilot program approved in the spring will remain in effect for the upcoming season. Tier 1 organizations are limited to the following out-of-state players:
At the 10U level, no out-of-state players are allowed, while they are also limited to four players ‘playing up’ from below the age of 10.
At the 2022 Awards Banquet, MAHA recognized outstanding contributions and successes within amateur hockey for participants and organizations alike.
Escanaba’s Andy Johnson was named the Earl Piper Award winner as coach of the year; Scott Antioch was named the Lowell McCoy Award winner as referee of the year, and Larry Johnson, outgoing vice president of adult hockey, was named the Ray Kraemer Award winner for dedication to adult hockey.
Andy Johnson accepts the Earl Piper Award as coach of the year from MAHA's Gordon Bowman. (Photo by Michael Caples/MAHA)
The Wes Danielson Award for disabled hockey was presented to youth hockey player Emmett Hutter and adult hockey player and coach Michael Palmer.
Emmett Hutter accepting the Wes Danielson Award from MAHA president George Atkinson. (Photo by Michael Caples/MAHA)
Three associations were recognized during the announcement of the John Stansik Award for association of the year. A scoring system incorporating participation numbers, retention and growth led to the selections of first, second and third-place finishers for the award, which comes with monetary donations to each organization.
First Place - Iron Amateur Hockey Association - $7,500
Second Place - Plymouth Hockey Association - $5,000
Third Place - Bulldogs Hockey Club - $2,500
The Iron Amateur Hockey Association was awarded $7,500 as part of their John Stansik Award honors as association of the year. (Photo by Michael Caples/MAHA)
Kevin Wood received the first of two President’s Awards from Atkinson, recognizing his work as the new secretary of MAHA and lead of planning for the Summer Meeting. Reynolds was honored with a President’s Award, for providing leadership and organization to help grow the game.
Joe Barone, VP of youth hockey, was presented with the Kellogg Award, given annually for ‘outstanding achievement and dedication to hockey.’
MAHA also congratulated the following members for service awards:
CHARLIE AUTORE AWARD (FIVE YEARS)
LARRY CAIN AWARD (TEN YEARS)
GERALD M. CONLEY AWARD (15 YEARS)
JOHN VARGO AWARD (20 YEARS)
RALPH BAMMERT AWARD (25 YEARS)