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Exciting growth ongoing within Jr. Wildcats, Knighthawks inline programs

 

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Both the Tucson Jr. Wildcats and Knighthawks continue to see significant growth in their programs.

Jr. Wildcats head coach Erik Dahl has seen it firsthand.

“Our recreational program continues to grow by leaps and bounds,” said Dahl. “We’ve been averaging 10-15 new players each season. Many of those kids are coming over from ice to keep skating during the ice offseason, but many others are new to the sport.”

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The growth of the recreational program benefits the travel program.

“It’s hard for travel programs to grow, or even to continue to exist frankly without a good pool of new players to draw from as players continue age up and out, so we put a lot of emphasis into our rec program and making hockey fun,” Dahl said.

Knighthawks vice president Dustin Jans said he has put an emphasis on the rec program as well.

“We really have started to invest a lot of our time into growing a house league at the Peoria Sports Complex,” Jans said. “This has been a great way to get new kids involved. I think this year we should be competitive at every age level and I expect us to have new kids, and that is always a good sign.”

Jans said a group effort has fueled the growth of the Knighthawks.

“Over the past two years, Brent Proud, Sean Woodhouse, David Marmostine and I have spent many hours getting kids into the house league at the sports complex,” Jans said. “We are seeing those kids get better and better, and we will see some of those new kids at our tryouts. We started the program with about 20 or so kids and last season we had three 12U teams and three 16U teams into our house league. We hope to see the numbers continue to grow.”

Dahl said word of mouth has fueled growth. It’s actually worked better than sending out flyers to schools and advertising the league.

“We’ve found that the vast majority of our growth comes from the new excitement over hockey in general in Tucson, with the addition of the AHL Roadrunners last season,” Dahl said.

Working directly with the Roadrunners has also helped.

“We work closely with Tyler Kern in the Roadrunners front office and everyone we’ve dealt with in the Roadrunners organization has been so supportive,” Dahl said. “It’s definitely a mutually beneficial relationship. The more we grow, the more interest there is in hockey, and that creates a larger audience and more fans of the Roadrunners.”

As for the season ahead, both Jans and Dahl have high expectations.

Dahl said he expects his travel teams to be highly competitive this year and is looking forward to seeing how the season plays out. He said the coaches in the program intend to put an emphasis on teamwork.

“Our board has discussed our desire to teach all of our players, from the rec teams through the travel teams, that hockey is truly a team sport,” Dahl said. “Our board sat down with our coaches recently and discussed that and how we’re going to work to make teamwork a bigger part of our game in Tucson. Above everything, our club is about hockey being fun. We certainly want to be competitive and we want our players to get better, but everyone has to have fun, or we’re in this for the wrong reasons.”

Jans is expecting the Knighthawks to be competitive as well at every age level and said a lot of emphasis will be on the fundamentals.

“I think we are really going to focus on the basics of the game this year, such as skating, passing and working as a team,” Jans said. “At the end of the day, we want our kids to play as a team and have fun. That is the goal every year.”

— Brian Lester

(Sept. 28, 2017)