In my previous post I outlined the on-ice choices we have made for our hockey players up to this point. One of the most critical and hardest for our family was choosing to leave our local youth hockey association this winter. There are many reasons why this was a tough one, but one of the most difficult was walking away from a key part that of what makes Minnesota Hockey so special, the community hockey model (I provide more details on the community hockey model in this post). Ultimately, the community hockey model comes alive through youth hockey associations and high school hockey. With my oldest child being seven years old, we are stepping away from our connection to our local community model.

This was also a tough decision because our family has developed great ties within our local hockey association. I have been coaching the last few years and have built some great friendships with other coaches and members of the board. I also believe some of the parents like my style of coaching as well as the way I run my practices, so they may have been looking forward to having me as a coach, and I hate to let people down. My daughter has also developed some close friendships with other girls she has played with the last few years and loves telling everyone she plays for our local community team.

Where will we be playing this winter?

We will be playing at a local “elite” hockey development organization that runs a private (non-association based) winter hockey league (very similar to the winter AAA model in other parts of the country). They have all sorts of player training and development opportunities and our children go there for hockey camps, 3 on 3 leagues, and off-season training. We think their development model that is hyper-focused on skating, edge work, and stickhandling is aligned with our development expectations of our player, and the coaches push the kids and hold them accountable. Their winter league has been running for about 10 or 15 years and has over 60 teams this year. You also must tryout, so you get a level of comfort that you are surrounded by other players that are of a similar skill and focus.

Why did we make this decision?

There were many factors in making this decision and it was a tough one. We weighed a few options when making it: play association only, play private winter league only, do both. As we weighed the options and looked at our decision making criteria the private winter league quickly stood out. So why did we make this choice?

  • Development Curriculum: As I have mentioned previously and in other blogs our children go to this organization for other training and they have a foundational curriculum that is truly player development focused, and you can boil it down to three key areas: Skating stride and power, Agility and balance through edge work, and stick handling. They break skating and stickhandling down to their fundamental movements and then train on these movements with a slow build to pull it all together. They do teach the game of hockey but skills and development are the primary focus. Our local association relies primarily on USA Hockey station practices and drills. Many times the practice plans are a bit of a hodgepodge of selected drills and not always focused on the repetition needed to excel.
  • Playing with Boy: The private winter league has mixed gender teams and we want our player to experience playing with boys and girls on the same team while there is little to no physical differences between girls and boys. We have all girls in our house and we thought playing with girls would be a fun opportunity for our daughter within our association (they have girls and boys teams), which was true. We also saw the downside of the separate teams, primarily that the girls are not exposed to the boys style of play and approach to the game that helps build aggressiveness and competitiveness. My observations of coaching both boys and girls is that the girls will work on the drills and skills you give them, they will focus on the details and coaching tips and take the time needed to get it right. Boys on the other hand will will themselves to get things down through force and aggressiveness and will eventually get there. This is a broad generalization and neither style is right or wrong, but these differences begin to show up in games and can impacted the confidence of the girls, even though they are doing the technical aspects correctly the boys aggressiveness and will to fight for the puck can make for lopsided scores when they play against each other.
  • Age of Teammates: Our oldest player is a “people pleaser” she likes to fit in and will often mimic those around her (good and bad!), of course this isn’t ideal behavior and we hope it will change with her maturing but that is who she is right now. The private winter league has kids that are about 6 months to 1.5 years older than her and more mature. We are hoping their maturity and approach to the game is something she mimics and starts to taking on as she matures. Our local association is extremely strict on age brackets she wouldn’t have the opportunity to play with older kids that are serious about the game.
  • Amount of Ice Time: The private winter league has double the ice time for a cheaper per/hr cost. The league starts earlier, ends later, and has longer practices. All things that will help get her ready for 10U, even if that is a few years away. This is doesn’t cause her to be on the ice more than about 4 days a week, leaving time for other sports and activities on her off days such as swimming, lacrosse, and dry-land training.
  • Focus. Focus. Focus: The players, coaches, and management of the league are focused. Focused on skill development. Focused during practice with limited horse-play in lines or between drills. Focused on showing up each practice rain or shine (or in our case biter cold and blizzard). That was one major downside to our local association, especially on the girls side. It was treated as something fun you go do. It was a social outlet for the parents and then would come sometimes or maybe not others if it was too cold or early. This attitude carried over to the girls on the ice as well. The coaches also didn’t always show as they had committed to especially if they had a boy player where they also coached or helped out.

As you can see this was the right decision for us, I want to reinforce that there is nothing wrong with our youth hockey association and it worked for us for the first few years, but as our daughter developed and we had clearer expectations of what we needed from a winter league the private option was the best choice. Would also like to say that there are associations across Minnesota putting out amazing boys and girls that love the game and are great players and the private winter leagues are impacting their numbers and expectations of the parents (good and bad), and I know we are contributing to this switch (commonly perceived as a negative) of youth hockey in Minnesota but ultimately we needed to do what is best for our player and family.

In my next blog I will discuss how our winter season has started out and provide an overview of if we made the right decision.

-North Star Hockey Dad

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