Arizona Rubber

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Alumni link remains strong within Mission AZ program

 

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Ever since Jeremy Goltz started the Mission AZ youth hockey program in the Phoenix area 13 years ago, he has made it a point to maintain connections with Mission’s alumni.

It’s an important part of growing the program and giving his young players something to aim for, he believes.

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Mission AZ has produced nearly 70 players who have gone on to play junior hockey and college hockey – everywhere from the Eastern Hockey League, Western States Hockey League and the North American 3 Hockey League to ACHA schools Loyola Marymount, University of Denver, University of Pittsburgh and of course, the four major college hockey programs within Arizona’s borders.

“We’ve had 33 guys from our program over the years play for University of Arizona, Arizona State, Northern Arizona University or Grand Canyon,” said Goltz, the director of hockey operations for Mission AZ. “We have 14 currently playing at those colleges.”

Goltz goes to great lengths to maintain connections with Mission alumni, maintaining a detailed list on the program’s website of players who have gone on to play at higher levels and regularly organizing events that allow alumni to come back to the rink and share their experiences with younger players.

It’s not only a great way for current players to get a grasp on what their future could hold, but many alumni feel a genuine desire to give back to the program that helped shape their hockey careers.

A big part of that, Goltz said, is maintaining strong relationships with the Arizona colleges and working with the coaches to place his players in the appropriate programs. Goltz recently signed on as the director of North American scouting for U of A, and continues to stay in close contact with coaches at the other local schools.

Goltz said that there’s a common misconception among hockey players in the Phoenix area that playing for Arizona State’s Division I program is the be-all and end-all of local college hockey. But he argued that only a small percentage of players from Mission’s program – or any other local program, for that matter – will make it at that level.

For players that don’t fit with ASU’s top program, there are plenty of other really good options to stay in state and play hockey in college.

“These are competitive teams at great schools with scholarship money available,” said Goltz, who played at the University of Arizona and coached at Arizona State before starting the Mission program. “It’s an honor to play for a major university.

“The hockey is getting better and better at these schools – they’re getting Junior A kids and Division I transfers. Playing at these local colleges is a great option that’s realistic for a lot of top players when they’re ready to make that move.”

Having strong college hockey programs across the state creates a significant impact on the hockey scene as a whole.

With kids being able to aspire to further their educations and play college hockey close to home, youth hockey programs are strengthened and the general interest level in the sport increases substantially.

That’s part of the reason why Mission’s alumni network is something that Goltz holds near and dear to his heart – he wants the best for his players, and he expects that those who have gone on to bigger and better things will give back to the local hockey community by helping bridge those ever so important connections.

“It definitely helps,” Goltz said. The biggest thing is that when you start getting to the older levels, you need that dangling carrot to keep kids motivated. They can set a goal for what they want to do, and that helps keep kids playing youth hockey when they get a little older.”

— Greg Ball

(Jan. 23, 2018)