Bobcats alumni skates more than casual summer pick-up games
What started as a series of informal summertime pick-up games for top-level alumni of the Arizona Bobcats program has now become an organized effort involving the program’s coaches and a significant number of its former players that’s aimed at helping those players improve during their offseasons.
The Bobcats alumni summer skates have become a popular and effective way for players to come home to the Phoenix area between seasons and use the downtime to work on their games with similarly skilled players.
Run by Bobcats director of hockey Ron Filion and coaches Jason Oliver and Brent Gough, it brings together some of the program’s most promising junior, college and professional alumni.
This summer’s alumni skates started in May with a small handful of players whose teams’ seasons were shorter because they didn’t make the playoffs, and the group has steadily grown in size as other players’ seasons have ended. Filion and his staff will continue to run them right up until players leave to return to their junior or college teams at the end of summer.
“These guys get to compete amongst their peers in the hockey world and see how other guys are training and progressing,” Oliver said. “It sort of started as some scrimmages with Auston Matthews, Christian Cakebread and that group, and since then it has evolved to become a little more instructional.”
Players originally from Phoenix will come back to visit their families, and others will fly in and stay with their old billet families to participate in the summer skate. They represent colleges all over North America as well as the United States Hockey League (USHL), North American Hockey League (NAHL) and a number of other junior leagues.
“Guys from all over who have a tie to the Bobcats or just to the local area come in for the summer, and we get together three days a week for an hour or so at a time,” Oliver said. “We’ll do 30 minutes of individual skill work, 15-minutes of one-on-ones and two-on-twos, and then for the last 15 minutes, we kind of have some fun and fool around.
“This time of year, they’re not training as hard as other times, so they’re not going full tilt on the ice. They’ve taken their 2-3 weeks off from being on the ice to recover, and now they’re into working pretty hard in dryland training. This helps keeps their legs going, but also gives them the opportunity to work on some skills without the pressures of having to perform in game situations.”
Alumni participating in the summer skate are mostly 20 years old and under. Typically, there are 8-10 players at each session, and players will attend anywhere from one to three days a week, depending on their workout schedule.
With three top coaches involved, players can break off into groups or get some individual attention to work on a specific skill. Filion and Gough were both forwards in their playing days, and Oliver played defense, so they can each help young players on different aspects of the game. The skates can help them fine-tune their games in preparation for mid-summer agency camps and junior league prospect camps.
Oliver’s 17-year-old son, Kaid (pictured), who spent two seasons with the Bobcats and played forward last year for the Victoria Royals in the Western Hockey League (WHL), is a regular participant in the alumni summer skates. Other alumni who have skated with the group have included Jeremy Masella (WHL), Keenan Spillum (NAHL), Phil Knies (USHL, NCAA D-I Miami University) and Matt Jones (QMJHL). They also welcome players from the Bobcats’ 18U and 16U AAA teams that have a good shot at playing juniors to join in.
“We want kids who are of a like skill level,” Oliver said. “We try to keep it from being watered down talent-wise. We’re not just running it for the sake of running it.”
— Greg Ball