CAHA proving to be Valley’s top developmental model, on and off the ice
The Coyotes Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) is the only program in the Valley that has house, A, AA, and AAA hockey.
The association has also had a great deal of success at all levels getting players to the next level, whether that means moving a player from house to AA or AA to AAA.
All of CAHA’s directors work together in unison to make players better every day.
It all starts with executive director Kristy Aguirre, who is joined by Tier I/Elite Hockey director Marc Fritsche, AA travel director Kenny Corupe, director of youth hockey development Scott Gruber and program goaltending director Mike Nepsa.
“The team functions as a unit – we review, discuss, decide and implement all items as a group,” Aguirre said. “Not one of us are more important, just different roles. We rely on each other for support, for assistance, and most of all, for information pertaining to our common goal. Sitting in the trenches is not always fun, but if you have people alongside you, you are stronger for it, no doubt.”
Aguirre first joined the program years ago when her son was a first-year Midget player and moved over from another program. She was a team manager for several years and then moved on to the staff and has been here ever since.
“The people and the role keep me here,” said Aguirre. “The people because I have a great team to work with every day – all of us have the same goals and priorities for each other and our program. The role keeps me here because I get to help build and implement a program that puts youth at the center with an emphasis on getting better, doing better every day. That is a personal motto for me – do better, be better. There is always room for improvement.”
For Gruber, joining CAHA 10 years ago was an opportunity to join a team that had his same visions.
“I moved out of the operations department into house hockey to give the program a new attitude, a new vision, a new focus,” Gruber said. “The coworkers, the people and ownership keep me here. I have always been fully supported. I am trusted to do my job and mold the program as needed. I keep doing this because of the amazing group of volunteer coaches we have. We could not produce the CDP (Coyotes Development Program) product without our group of coaches. They are what makes the program thrive and maintain a strong reputation.
“We are extremely fortunate to have the level of coaches we have and keeping everyone focused on the same goal is the key. The goal of marathon development for these great kids – it’s not about the win next weekend, it’s about the win once starting high school or college.”
Corupe enjoys the team-first aspect of CAHA and the Jr. Coyotes.
“What I enjoy about our program the most is that we have a team of people that respect each other and challenge each other to be better every day,” said Corupe. “We expect the best out of each other, and it shows in our programs. It makes me proud to be in this group. I quit professional hockey to start this job. I still had a contract to go back and play my 16th year of pro hockey in Norway and when this situation was presented to me and my family, it didn’t take me long to commit.
“I have a chance every day to inspire kids to believe in something. Even bigger, we help teach kids to work hard, respect each other and be good teammates – all traits that help kids off the ice. As a result, we are the biggest and top program in the state, and I’m proud to be a small piece of that.”
A part of CAHA for two years, Nepsa came to the desert from NCAA Division I Canisius College, where he coached. He has immersed himself in the organization and sees why the Jr. Coyotes are gaining respect and exposure not only on a regional level, but nationwide.
“I am fortunate enough to help the cohesion since I work with the CDP house program goalies once a month, and then also work with our AA and AAA goalies each week,” said Nepsa. “I get to see firsthand how Scotty, Kenny and Marc operate and work together to form a well-oiled machine. I love working with goalies who have little to no background as well as goalies who are highly skilled and on the cusp of making a junior team. Being the main facilitator of their growth is something I, myself, take pride in.
“I am proud for being a part of this group, but in no way am I surprised at our success. Each director, coach and player has bought in to what we are trying to do here, and it shows in our accomplishments. We start them young in CDP and continue to build them up through AA and eventually AAA. It’s the long result of the system we built where we dive in and commit to the kids long term, which is hard to find anywhere else in the Valley.”
Fritsche first came to CAHA as a coach when he moved to the area from Cleveland. He coached the 2006 birth year Elite team for three seasons, and also guided the 14U and 16U teams.
“I enjoy our program due to the fact that we keep growing,” said Fritsche. “We are building a great culture for players in Arizona to come and develop their skills at the highest level. I am also very proud of our coaching staff. Also having support from such a great team with Kristy Aguirre, Kenny Corupe, Scott Gruber and Mike Nepsa is more than reason enough to stay. We also have an unbelievable facility in the Ice Den that supports our every need with everything that they have.
“We are truly a family. If one of us has an issue, it’s each of our problems to solve. It is incredible to work with like-minded people that have the same goals and aspirations for not only our program but the growth of hockey in the whole state of Arizona. I love my job and while at times it may be a bit stressful and hectic, taking care of our players, coaches and managers is extremely rewarding. I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.”
Last season, the Jr. Coyotes’ 15 Only and 16U Tier I teams won Rocky Mountain District championships at their respective divisions and made it to the quarterfinals at the USA Hockey National Tournament. In addition, three players committed to NCAA Division I programs off the 16U roster, two players made Western Hockey League rosters and three more players made United States Hockey League teams.
“Every year, we are finding more and more ways to have success,” said Fritsche. “We also try to stay away from reinventing the wheel but sticking with what works and making it that much better.”
This season, the CAHA Bucks joined the association and are enamored with what the overall experience has been so far.
“As coaches, parents and volunteers, the Bucks are proud and excited to be the newest program at CAHA,” said Bucks 12U/11U head coach Greg Sitrick. “CAHA is about the kids and the sport. CAHA has demonstrated a commitment to develop programs that grow skaters of any age from novice to intense competitors, and through programs like the Bucks, CAHA is the only youth hockey organization in Arizona that offers such a variety of development programs for kids to choose from. Its programs advance the game of hockey, regardless of the starting point, and afford the kids the best resources and opportunities.”
Now in its 21st season, CAHA is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“I carry a great amount of pride and happiness that our program continues to help players achieve their goals,” said Aguirre. “Seeing a player learn and master a new skill, a new move, is extremely rewarding to see players beam with confidence, knowing that all of their hard work and sacrifice both personally and within their families does pay off. Making kids happy, keeping them active, and learning important life skills about teamwork are all part of the priorities of our program. Our directors, our coaches, all exemplify these priorities in their everyday roles as coaches in our program.
“Our outlook is very promising. We continue to have more and more players going where they dream of going on their paths. Being able to supply the foundation for so many is an incredible feeling. With our people, our culture, our partners, and our building, we are truly in a position to continue to excel and be the best program we can possibly be.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Oct. 14, 2019)