FYHA teams enjoy remarkable 2018-19 season in Northern Arizona
The walls of Flagstaff’s Jay Lively Ice Arena are decorated with banners won through the years, some boasting names of then-players who are now coaches within the Flagstaff Youth Hockey Association (FYHA).
During the 2018-19 season, FYHA added four new championship banners:
• 14U AZYHL Cactus Division State Champions
• CSAHA President’s Day Tournament, 10U B Division
• Las Vegas Invitational Tournament, 10U B Division
• Gopher State Veterans’ Cup in Minneapolis, Minn., 10U B Division
“It’s truly remarkable FYHA is able to pull together such competitive teams, despite living in a small market,” said Ryan Gearhart, 2018-19 FYHA president. “When you stop and consider that Flagstaff is smaller than Chandler – just one of the Valley’s many suburbs – it puts it all into perspective.”
Gearhart credits the teams’ success to the both the kids’ hard work and the coaches’ dedication to the program.
FYHA’s 14U team was coached by Ron Kuzara, a Minnesota native who coached and managed Northern Arizona University’s club hockey program from 2004-06. Today, he is a Flagstaff junior high school teacher who also plays in Flagstaff’s adult hockey league.
“My kids were a fantastic group and we enjoyed wonderful leadership among our players,” said Kuzara. “We were cohesive as a team and I’m extremely proud of how they overcame numerous injuries to come together and play our best hockey at the end of the year. Coaching itself is very rewarding. It’s wonderful to invest in the lives of these young athletes, developing them both as people and helping them appreciate the challenge of playing competitive hockey.”
Kuzara noted that while it is a long season, it’s worth the investment in time and travel. He did, coincidentally, have a few of his hockey players as students at school.
“It added to the quality of my relationship with the team to see these kids on a daily basis,” added Kuzara.
In addition to banner recognition, FYHA’s 14U team earned recognition from the City of Flagstaff, which honored the team during its regular council meeting on April 16. Kuzara and FYHA presented Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans with a personalized No. 30 Flagstaff Northstars jersey as part of the ceremony (pictured at top).
The 10U team, which competed in AZYHL’s Mesquite Division, was coached by Ryan Haar, a former NAU hockey player and recent graduate, and was assisted by Kyle Palmer, whose name graces several championship banners from his youth playing days at FYHA, and Dwight Downs, a Michigan native who took his love for hockey to the mountains of Arizona.
“We were pretty OK at hockey growing up (birth years ‘83-88),” said Palmer. “For a small market, we had good teams and competed with those from much bigger markets – going places and winning a lot of tournaments. As a coach, it’s important for me to maintain that high level of play in Flagstaff while developing our kids now in FYHA. Keeping that tradition is incredibly important for us.”
Throughout its age groups, FYHA has several of its own player alumni, NAU alums, and past and present NAU coaches responsible for player development in the small mountain town.
“We don’t have former NHL players coaching here in Flagstaff, but we have something just as special – individuals whose passion for hockey has been with them their whole life,” Gearhart said. “Not everyone gets to go pro, and I think it’s healthy for kids to see that going pro doesn’t need to dictate your love for the sport.”
With the support of its town and stellar coaching staff, Flagstaff looks forward to continuing fielding competitive teams and developing players at every level.
— Tyff Sweeney
(May 13, 2019)