AHU program continues to provide family-oriented hockey
As the hockey season comes to an end, the Arizona Hockey Union continues to focus on its family-oriented mission.
The Union aims to provide long-term growth and competitive development of youth hockey players serving the Valley. This past season has done just that.
Club president Stacy Shupe always wants to make sure the Union encourages a positive environment for young athletes, including having a quality coaching staff.
“Our philosophy is that we want to make a fun, comprehensive place to play, across all levels,” Shupe said. “We don’t measure success in wins and losses. Success of a team is that the coaches made a fun environment for the kids – fun is first.”
The club understands the struggles of keeping up with hockey, so it has ways to reach out and help families who need it.
“Hockey is an expensive sport and we try to be a competitive provider,” Shupe said. “We do things in terms of scholarships and sponsorships to try to make it affordable.”
As a tight-knit community, the Union’s success is based off of how players and families enjoy their time with the Union.
“The thing that makes me the happiest is when the kids are smiling when they are wearing their jerseys and proud to wear our equipment,” Shupe said. “I take pride in seeing our logo on kids and family members who are wearing them. The coaches also make sure the kids are having fun.”
Along with Shupe, ace coordinator and coach-in-chief Kurt Goar tries to maintain the coaching standard in the organization to try to grow hockey in the West.
“We have an old school way for coaching,” noted Goar. “We have a lot of dads who are coaches – we are family oriented. They are parents first, so they tend to better understand how to communicate with the kids.”
The Union strives to follow a strategy in choosing and retaining coaches.
“Most coaches are usually leaders at their jobs or in their communities,” Goar said. “But involving all of the parents also makes for a successful season. Coaches try to create a family and try to get the entire family involved, especially in younger teams. Coaches will reach out to families for team building exercises.”
“We want to focus on providing a consistent product,” added Shupe. “When we do that, families believe they receive value. Coaches really have one primary role, getting the kids to the next skill level while having fun.”
One of the successes of the Union was the Bantam AA team ending their season with a state championship.
“We all do it for the love of the game and for the kids,” said Bantam AA coach Jason Evahnenko. “It’s hard to compete with someone who cares more about the kids’ growth and development, more than worrying about the team’s results.”
The Union held an end-of-season get-together for all teams to reminisce on positive memories. Teams were asked to send photos for a slideshow of the good times they had throughout the season.
“There were photos of teams on airplanes, in restaurants, at tournaments – that’s what kids remember,” Shupe said. “The experience they have, it always puts it into perspective for us. If you see the pictures, you can see everyone had a good, fun time.”
Several teams made it to championship games, brought home out-of-state banners, teams volunteered in various organizations, and Shupe plans for next season to carry on the same way.
“Hockey is a long season, so we celebrate hockey together,” Shupe said. “Our future plans are just to keep the ball rolling, to get more kids in the program and grow the sport in the West.”
“Seeing the kids happy and having smiles on their faces, win or lose, is what matters the most,” said Goar. “That’s when we know we achieved our goals.”
— Katy Wolpoff