Bobcats, Hensdell succeeding in Mite development realm
It’s no secret that the process of developing great hockey players starts when they’re young, and the Arizona Bobcats have fully embraced the effort to build a solid foundation at the Mite level.
The Bobcats held their annual Mite Jamboree on Nov. 4, featuring cross-ice games for the youngest players, half-ice contests for the more advanced Mites and plenty of fun for kids who are just starting to develop a love for hockey. Ten teams participated, coming from all corners of the Phoenix area.
Bobcats hockey director Ron Filion said the Jamborees have been excellent events over the years, and his coaching staff places an extra emphasis on developing players’ skills at the Mite level.
“This is our third year hosting a Jamboree, and it has been a phenomenal success,” FIlion said. “Our seven coaches responsible for developing the next generation of Bobcats players have done a terrific job following the game plan, and our young goalies have the chance to work with Brad Donaldson and Pat Conacher almost every practice.”
Hensdell is the Bobcats’ power skating and skills coach, as well as an assistant coach with the 11U, 12U and 16U teams while also running the Mite program. He spends seven days a week at the rink.
Hensdell said the Bobcats’ Mite program is mainly focused on skill development – working on everything from skating to stick handling, passing and shooting. More advanced players work on things like how to attack the net in a three-on-three situation versus a four-on-four scenario.
“It’s amazing what these little guys are able to do,” said Hensdell, who played junior hockey in Alaska and ACHA college hockey. “It still surprises me every day. If I would have had this skill development available when I was a kid, I probably would have made it further.”
Starting as a skating coach with FIlion seven years ago, Hensdell worked on power skating with guys like Auston Matthews – who would later become the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft – as well as current NCAA Division I players Christian Cakebread and Jake Durflinger. He has taken on more and more responsibility each year and now works with each of the program’s teams, pulling kids aside during practices and working on specific skills that could use improvement.
“I’m always trying to watch and tweak how kids do things just a little bit, so it helps the players out and in turn, helps the teams,” Hensdell said.
He knows how important it is to develop the basic skills early and build on them, because as hockey players reach the higher levels, it becomes harder to break bad habits and teach them the right way to do things.
“When we first started the program and had just a couple teams of older players who had come from other programs, it was pretty evident that the skill development hadn’t been there at an early age,” Hensdell said. “They knew systems, but they were so far behind on skill development. Every practice for our teams, especially for the Mites, is 90 percent skill development.”
Hensdell believes that hockey players, especially ones just learning the game at the Mite level, have the chance to improve every time they’re on the ice. That’s why he never lets up with his focus on developing skills.
“Some of our Mites skate better than some of our older players because they get my attention at every practice,” said Hensdell. “We work on forward stride, tight turns, going backwards to forwards, keeping your shoulders over your knees, improving transition time and more.
“We’re not all about winning, but the long-term result of a focus on skill development and coaching is that you get those wins. At the end of the day, almost all our players move on to the next levels, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
— Greg Ball
(Nov. 28, 2017)