Arizona Rubber

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Flagstaff coaches balance different levels of hockey



Coaches at the high school and college levels spend hours upon hours dedicated to helping their team improve and come together.

But what’s it like when the same coaches have to flip the switch and help a group of kids who are just learning how to skate?

That’s the fun challenge that three Flagstaff-based coaches have embraced.

“It’s a completely different end of the spectrum,” said Travis Johanson, the Division II coach at Northern Arizona University.

Johanson is one of three coaches for the Flagstaff Youth Hockey Association’s 6U program, a group that consists of almost 40 players between the ages of four and six.

Kris Walsh, the Division III coach at NAU, and Denny Lauritsen, the Division I coach at Flagstaff High School, also run the program for the youngsters.

The kids practice each Monday and have a 3-on-3 scrimmage each Saturday, contests that don’t even have goalies.

But at that age, fundamentals are the focus.

“You pay a lot more attention to the beginner skills – learning to skate and using their edges and getting them comfortable with their balance,” Walsh said. “And then we work on passing and stickhandling and things like that. It’s definitely beginner stuff, but it’s exciting watching the kids develop so rapidly. You’re just trying to get the kids excited about the game and excited to come back.”

One thing all three coaches agreed on is that success is measured is vastly different ways for each group.

“Coaching the college kids, it’s not so much as the skill and the skating anymore,” Johanson said. “That’s all you focus on with the little kids. With the older kids, it’s systems and game planning and forechecks and the power play.”

Working with the youngsters gives the trio a chance to work with their own kids. Each coach has a son in the 6U program.

“It’s just good to be out there with our own kids,” Lauritsen said. “It’s fun to be coach and dad.”

— Eric Smith