Goltz Hockey Summer League going strong in ninth year
Like many kids who grew up in cold-weather climates, Jeremy Goltz and his friends in his Chicago-area neighborhood spent much of their free time at the closest pond playing pickup games.
They’d throw their sticks into a pile and have someone separate them to pick teams or designate captains to choose teams. Without the supervision of adults to serve as referees and coaches, they’d settle their own disputes, develop their own strategies and play with a freedom not afforded to them when playing in rinks and wearing their team sweaters.
Goltz thinks he has created a similar atmosphere with the Goltz Hockey Summer League. The director of hockey operations for Mission Arizona youth hockey knows that there’s a time to be serious, focus on winning games and emphasize skill development, but feels that summer is an appropriate time to let young players enjoy simply playing hockey for the fun of it.
“The whole idea of it is to just let the kids be kids for a couple months,” Goltz said. “It’s a pickup atmosphere, with just a little bit of structure.
“When I was growing up, kids took summers off or played other sports. The way things work now with so many kids focusing on one sport 12 months a year, it’s important that they do something a little bit different and play some pickup hockey. Obviously, you want it to be safe and structured, but the whole idea is for them to have fun.”
Goltz emphasizes that the league – in its ninth season this summer – is all about playing in a relaxed atmosphere, staying in shape and discovering the fun that can be had playing offseason hockey. He likes to say that there is nothing like it in the sport at the youth level.
Players in the league come from all over Arizona, not just the Mission program, although games are played at Mission’s rink, AZ Ice in Peoria. The season runs from mid-April through mid-June and features games one night a week. There’s a 5-on-5 division for “Big Fellas” that serves players Midget age and up (including some Mission alumni) and a 3-on-3 “Lil’ Guys” division that’s for Bantams and below.
Because the emphasis is on fun, teams are encouraged to come up with unique nicknames. In the older division, this year’s teams are named Gong Show, Magic Men, Dad Bods and Charlie Price (in honor of a former Mission AZ player who recently passed away). In the younger division, this year’s teams are Magilla Gorilla, Speed Racers, Herculoids and Hong Kong Fuey.
Goltz adds an element of fun by posting a brief and light-hearted recap of each game on the league’s website, and adds video for each game with analysis and a first-person viewpoint that often has him on the ice recording during warmups and conducting in-game interviews. Music playing through the rink’s PA system keeps the atmosphere upbeat, and the league’s open-door policy means that it is open to players of all skill levels.
The players eat it up, and the atmosphere couldn’t be more different compared to regular-season or tournament games. The league offers the feel of pickup games, with just enough structure to keep things moving. Referees are on the ice, but there are no coaches on the bench.
“These kids get to see me in a different light, too,” Goltz said, noting that during the season he’s so focused on the success of his teams and his players’ development that he can’t often relax and have fun with the players. “We do some funny promo videos and I clown around with the kids on the ice, giving them nicknames and the whole thing.
“The season is a grind and is long enough. The kids are working hard and have high expectations of themselves from day to day. This summer league is a fun change and really works for us.”
— Greg Ball