AAHA continues growth with Yotes’ support, influence
Even with the success of the Arizona Coyotes for the past 20 years, Arizona State University making the move to NCAA Division I and the numerous positives with junior and youth teams, the game of hockey is still going through a huge growth spurt in the desert.
Perhaps the biggest factor in hockey’s progress out west is the Coyotes. Ask most teens from Arizona or players that made an impact in the college or pro game what influenced them to start lacing up the skates and the vast majority will say they either went to a Coyotes game or watched the team play and were instantly hooked.
That trend continues today and the Arizona Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) is reaping the benefits.
Coyotes’ manager of amateur hockey development Matt Shott, also a coach with the Arizona Lady Coyotes and ASU’s impending American Collegiate Hockey Association women’s team, has witnessed the growth firsthand.
“I think AAHA was a little leery at first as Coyote reps in the past had shown favoritism to other rinks and associations, and made promises they never came through on,” admitted Shott. “But I wanted to quickly establish my philosophy of the Coyotes treating all associations and rinks equally, which eventually branched out into the ‘Part of the Pack’ rink partnership program that all six Phoenix rinks are finalizing details on. We wanted to quickly establish positive and equal partnerships with rinks and associations.”
In his role with the Coyotes, Shott works with the local rinks and associations to help them continue to find joy in the game. He also works with local schools and community centers to incorporate street hockey into different programs and help grow the game through that avenue.
“Obviously, the rinks themselves are most responsible for implementing the programs and keeping the kids playing and they do a great job of that,” Shott said. “Since the ownership of the Coyotes has been stabilized here, the USA Hockey registrations have almost doubled. Knowing that there will be NHL support for years to come makes it more appealing to try out or continue to play the sport. Plus, this ownership is absolutely dedicated to growing hockey in Arizona, so having their support for fundraising, recognition, and more, is huge.”
Shott added that hockey continues to grow in the state and with the Coyotes’ support and influence, Arizona is fast becoming an area where more and more junior, college and pro prospects are emerging.
“I think hockey continues to work here since you have dedicated rink owners and hockey business owners, like Behind the Mask, who would do whatever they could to keep the sport alive,” explained Shott. “We have a dedicated group of hockey coaches and directors to keep this game growing.”
The Coyotes work with AAHA on the “Little Howlers” learn-to-skate program by providing jerseys to all participants and this year, the Coyotes fully sponsored the AAHA Mite Jamborees being held every month at different rinks. The Coyotes have also found room to support AAHA in many other realms, such as player development camp support, adult hockey support and of course, growing girls hockey.
“There are so many possibilities,” said Shott. “I think there will be plenty other Coyote-sponsored events that AAHA and the Coyotes will team up on in the future, including coaches clinics, more player interaction, association recognition, fundraising opportunities, and other opportunities. The sky really is the limit.”
— Matt Mackinder