Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

IHAAZ ‘expecting a fun year’ with growth, new talent

 

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The Inline Hockey Association of Arizona (IHAAZ) is expanding this season, another sign that the sport of inline hockey continues to grow in popularity.

The Phoenix Knighthawks are the newest organizations to join the league, which now has a total of eight programs involved. The Stealth program, also located in Phoenix, has also shown interest in joining IHAAZ.

The Knighthawks will have teams in the 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U age levels this season.

“We wanted to create a new team for the Phoenix and Peoria area,” said Knighthawks vice president Dustin Jans, who has a young son, Landon, that plays at the 8U level. “We started from the ground up with it and did a lot of work to get our name out there. The effort has paid off.”

Part of that effort included hosting clinics over the summer, which are continuing currently with free outdoor clinics for new players in the area.

“We had four well-attended clinics over the summer that all had positive reviews,” Jans explained. “Those were a big success and helped promote the team.”

Previously, there had been two inline associations in Peoria – the Pirates and the AZ Runners.

The Knighthawks are the first fully dedicated inline hockey team to join the league in five years. The Stealth organization will have one a team, a 12U squad.

The addition of the two organizations is a sign of the overall health of the league.

“We hit our low point in 2011,” said IHAAZ tournament director Dean Koressel. “It’s gone back and forth over the years, but I think now we are a good place, about where we were five years ago. We have more teams (28) than we did last year. The numbers are increasing all over the state as more people are getting involved with it. Families that move to the area can find a team much easier because the programs are all over the state.”

One of the reasons behind the rise in popularity, particularly in the IHAAZ, is that many players who participated in the sport when they were 12 or 13 are now grown up and have their own children, leading them to get involved in coaching the sport.

“They are really driving the movement,” Koressel said. “They remember how much fun it was to play when they were younger and now they are getting back into it as coaches.”

Another key to the success of the league, which begins play in January, is that it has always kept fun and family at the forefront.

“We never forgot our purpose,” Koressel said. “We never pretended like we were hosting tournaments of champions. We’ve created a family-friendly atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun for the players and the families.”

That atmosphere is something the Knighthawks plan to take advantage of. Winning is always nice, but having fun is the most important aspect of being a part of the league.

“We want to have great representation in each tournament, but we also want to make sure the kids have fun playing,” Jans said. “Everyone wants to win, but ultimately, the big thing is to have fun during the season.”

Koressel is happy with where the league is at heading into the 2016 campaign and looks forward to another great season. Six tournaments are on tap for the year, starting with one in Lake Havasu on Jan. 8 with the state finals being staged in May.

“It’s rare to get one new team for a season and this year, we will possibly have two,” Koressel said. “We’re happy with the way the league has grown and we’re expecting a fun year.”

Photo – The Phoenix Knighthawks are new to IHAAZ for the 2016 inline hockey season and will boast four teams at the 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U divisions. Pictured (left to right) are proud Knighthawks players Jack Tomlon (12U), Landon Jans (8U) and Zakery Proud (10U, 12U). Photo/Stephanie Proud

— Brian Lester