DYHA teams prepping for strong finishes to ’17-18 season
As the calendar turns to a new year, Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) teams have turned their attention to the final stages of their seasons.
For some, like Sean Whyte’s 18U AA Jr. Sun Devils squad, that means Arizona State Playdowns – and a potential berth to USA Hockey Youth Nationals – is fast approaching.
“We are gearing up to win states and then represent Arizona at Nationals,” Whyte said. “That’s our goal, and that’s been our goal since the start of the season. Hopefully, they actually pull it together and can come off with a championship.”
That said, accolades aren’t his team’s sole focus.
For his 1999 birth year players, the stretch run of this campaign will be the final weeks of their youth hockey careers.
“It’s definitely bittersweet for them,” Whyte said. “They’ve been able to play as long as they have at a high competitive level. That speaks volumes for the time and commitment that they’ve put into the sport.
“At the same time, all the 1999 birth years, if they don’t end up playing college or juniors next year, they’re probably going to end up in men’s league somewhere. I’m sure that weighs on them. It will definitely be a motivational factor taking place near the end of the season when we come to state Playdowns.”
“We will gear our strategy and game plan toward each team when the time comes,” he said. “The boys are familiar with all of the teams, so it’s going to be at that point who executes a better strategy.”
But more than just strategy, Whyte knows impending, title-deciding games will also be won by the team that shows the superior effort. He hopes it will be his squad.
“Any of the players on my team can completely dominate and take over a game. Likewise, on any given day, they can be a non-factor in the overall picture,” he said. “It’s truly up to them on how they get motivated.”
DYHA’s 16U AA and 14U AA teams have similar State Playdown goals in mind, but for the organization’s younger teams, the end of the season provides a final chance to improve.
“Any team I’m coaching, my job is to make sure these players are better players than when we started the season,” said Brad McCaughey, DYHA director of hockey and head coach of the 12U Major team.
McCaughey’s Pee Wees have battled against older competition this season, a challenge he thinks will benefit his players in the long run even if it translates to frustrating results now.
“They are keeping a good attitude and they are continuing to come practice and they are working hard and they are making some incredible strides,” McCaughey said.
DYHA has eight teams that won’t be competing for a Nationals berth, but McCaughey insists that doesn’t diminish the final weeks of the year.
“There’s less focus on Nationals and all that stuff and more of a focus on getting consistent effort every game,” he said.
Something all Jr. Sun Devils teams have in common: a final stretch to enjoy with their teams and solidify bonds on and off the ice.
“The bond and the brotherhood they have formed over the course of this past season has been very solid, and I’m very proud of them for that,” Whyte said.
Growing those locker room connections helps breed a winning culture.
For Whyte’s team, though, Playdowns provides the last chance to make the ultimate payoff: “Now it’s a matter of them pulling together when it counts.”
— Jack Harris
(Jan. 25, 2018)