Competitive, yet affordable, AZYHL hits on all cylinders
According to its policies and procedures, one of the Arizona Youth Hockey League’s (AZYHL) top purposes are “to operate a highly competitive hockey league in the geographic area of Arizona and to encourage a continuing drive for the highest standards of excellence and sportsmanship in hockey play among member teams.”
Sanctioned by USA Hockey, the AZYHL was formed in 2014 for Valley teams of all levels and has since been joined by additional teams from El Paso and Las Vegas.
Arizona Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA) president Tim Reckell stated that once the state took over operations of the AZYHL in 2014, hockey’s popularity and the league have experienced noticeable growth. He also noted that for the 2016-17 hockey season, 53 teams comprise the AZYHL with teams from ages eight to 18, with the majority of the squads competing at the 10U and 12U age levels.
“The best thing about this league is that all the games, each and every one of them, are played at the rinks here in the Valley,” said Reckell. “Most of the teams are local and there is some very good competition in this league. By having this league here in the Valley, more players can play and not worry about needing to pay for all the added travel expenses that hockey can bring, even at the youth level.”
Though the AZYHL does include some rec-level teams, it is highly competitive and houses arguably the best players in the state from ages 8-12. The amount of games per season vary by division. Each team will play a minimum of 10 games and could ultimately play as many as 18 games. The league runs from September to March, concluding with a state championship tournament in each division.
Last spring, 10 champions were crowned in late February – CAHA Jr. Coyotes Scottsdale (Squirt Elite), DYHA Jr. Sun Devils (Squirt Major), Flagstaff Northstars (Squirt Minor), CAHA Jr. Coyotes Elite (Pee Wee Elite), Mission Arizona (Pee Wee Minor), CAHA Jr. Coyotes Chandler (Pee Wee Major), Flagstaff Northstars (Bantam Major), Mission Arizona (Bantam Minor), DYHA Jr. Sun Devils (16U Midget Minor) and HS Premier (18U Midget Major).
Reckell was also quick to give credit where credit is due when it comes to support for the AZYHL.
“We really can’t thank the Shane Doan Foundation and the Arizona Coyotes enough for all they do for the AZYHL,” said Reckell. “For the 2016-17 season, they will provide the trophy for each of the AZYHL state champions, which will include all of the names of the past and future winners in that division of the AZYHL.”
Reckell also noted how the AZYHL continues to help the game grow in the desert.
“In the past three years, we have had consistent growth of participants in the league,” said Reckell. “And with the growth of kids starting to play the game with the Little Howlers program, this league will just continue to gain players and teams.”
The AZYHL has the support from many dedicated volunteers. Thanks to the dedicated effort of co-chairs David Lieb and Camille Becker and their work with the community, the sky is the limit when it comes to the program’s future and youth involvement.
“We do certainly hope to keep growing and I have to give a lot of credit to (former AAHA president) Brendan Shaw, who was really the driving force in putting the league together,” Reckell said. “Here in Arizona, we’re not a traditional hockey market like Detroit where you have 20 or 30 rinks within an hour of each other, but we do have five nice ice facilities.
“The best part of the AZYHL is that we have more than 700 youth players this season, all enjoying the game of hockey here in Arizona.”
– Matt Mackinder