IHAAZ welcoming new independent teams ‘with open arms’
Independent teams are establishing more of a presence in IHAAZ and this season, there are more than there have been in quite some time.
The league features six independent teams this year, including five new ones.
The HC Legion 12U team is coached by Casey Sherstobitoff and is made up of players from the 10U Knighthawks team from last year. Sherstobitoff said he formed a team in order to generate added interest in the sport.
“Our decision was based on exposing the fun and creative sport of inline hockey to more youth in Arizona,” Sherstobitoff said. “Growing up in Edmonton, our travel ice hockey teams used to play inline hockey in the summer. I found it a great place to develop my stick handling, fluid puck control and creativity. Now, I want to share my love for the sport with youth in our Bobcats ice hockey travel program and other programs in the Valley by creating a new team.”
The Outlaws have an 8U, 10U and 12U team and the majority of players are AHU Knights players from the East Valley.
The Peoria Desert Scorpions are also new this season while the Northern Arizona Yeti is in its third year as a Midget team made up mostly of Prescott players as well as some from the Phoenix area.
League tournament director Nick Boyarsky said the growth of independent teams has been big for IHAAZ.
“Independent teams are how the series grows now,” Boyarsky said. “It’s great when an existing program can form a new team, but sometimes the passion and desire to form something motivates a new group to get involved, and that’s never a bad thing.”
Sherstobitoff said there are a lot of positives to having an independent team.
“The positive has been seeing how it has increased the players’ love for the game of hockey,” Sherstobitoff said. “Travel ice programs come with a level of expectations and I’ve seen often that can wear on youth’s love for hockey at times. With travel inline, while it’s competitive, I really promote having fun, playing hard and playing hard as a team.”
The Yeti promote a positive atmosphere as well.
“We feel the Yeti has helped the sport grow, giving kids an opportunity to build lifelong friendships while being competitive and having fun,” said Stephanie Sherwood, whose family formed the team. “The experience has also given our boys Griffin and Grady valuable leadership and organizational opportunities. It’s been a learning experience for our whole family.”
Griffin is Stephanie’s son and helped form the Northern Arizona team during the 2017-18 season as a player. He had played for Prescott, starting out with the Storm at the 10U level, and said Boyarsky helped him find players from around the state, including Phoenix, Tucson and Lake Havasu.
“I think the benefit of having an independent program run by a player on the team was I was able to tailor the experience for the players because I had their same perspective,” said Griffin. “It also allowed us to accommodate the players’ schedules from around the state and have a low, competitive cost to play.”
Griffin isn’t as involved with the Yeti now as he plays at the University of Arizona, but his mom, along with his father Glen and Grady, have helped take over the logistics of running the program.
“I know they have big things planned,” Griffin said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them play this season and I hope the team’s legacy continues.”
It appears based on the growth of independent teams that they indeed have a place in IHAAZ. And while independent teams have less responsibility from a time and financial standpoint, the fact that they succeed is a plus for the league as a whole.
“If an independent team can be sustainable, and most importantly, become a positive member of the IHAAZ community, the existing group will always accept them with open arms,” noted Boyarsky.
— Brian Lester
(April 10, 2020)