‘Jr. Sun Devils’ on the horizon at Oceanside
Plenty today think it happened some 18 years ago, when the NHL shipped the Winnipeg Jets to the Valley to become the Phoenix Coyotes.
And there’s no doubt that, a couple decades from now, the lot will cite the year 2015 – notably due to Arizona State University’s jump to NCAA Division I status.
But, no, really, hockey has been a staple in Arizona’s largest metropolitan area for more than four decades now.
Since 1975, the Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA), playing out of the venerable Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, has not only provided local families with an enriching way to beat the desert heat, but has managed to evolve time and again to meet the needs of a still-growing hockey community.
Today, just as fellow Oceanside tenant ASU has managed to steal national headlines, it’s DYHA – a true Arizona youth hockey pioneer – that enters decade No. 5 ready to reinvent itself again.
Former NHL pro Sean Whyte had quite the job to do when he was hired eight years ago to turn around the state’s oldest youth hockey community.
Despite the local scene riding a high thanks to the NHL’s arrival only a decade prior, DYHA – history and resiliency be darned – was hardly on solid footing.
But a new board of directors put their faith in Whyte and his team to start from the ground up.
The return since? A near tripling in registered youth players, a menu of teams from Mite to Midget, and, now, a new identity that really isn’t new at all to any Arizona resident with a pulse.
“We’ve been the Firebirds since 2000,” explained DYHA’s coach-in-chief. “When I came on board, it was a program that needed a facelift, needed new life.
“So we changed our colors, upgraded our logo and brought in a lot – a lot – of key people. We rebuilt. We did a very good job of competing.”
To Whyte, poetically it really was “the Phoenix rising from the ashes.”
DYHA has been highly competitive since, but that doesn’t mean change wouldn’t still be in order.
“Now, it only makes sense that with the other major tenant of Oceanside being ASU – and with how (ASU head coach) Greg Powers has done an incredible job of building that program and with ASU going D-I – that what they’ve accomplished goes right in line with what we can accomplish.
“For DYHA, it only makes sense that we usher in a new era as the Jr. Sun Devils.”
Gone will be the navy, white and crimson of the Firebirds. In – through a licensing agreement with ASU – will be the familiar maroon-and-gold color scheme, and the approved use of the iconic “Sparky” as the Jr Sun Devils’ primary emblem.
To Whyte, it goes beyond colors and logos; it’s a chance to strengthen DYHA’s level of hockey training, while also making the Jr. Sun Devils more recognizable across North America.
Home Sweet Home
For four decades, if DYHA has been synonymous with one thing – and vice versa – it’s been Oceanside.
“I certainly take it as a compliment when people say they like Oceanside due to its vintage feel,” explained Adam Mims, the rink’s executive director.
Sure, it’s Mims’ mission to keep the bleachers comfortable, the ice cold and the Zamboni operational. But the truth is that while Mims is the first to prop Oceanside up for its charm, he’s also the one who can admit – happily – the fact that Oceanside doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other facilities.
According to Mims that means Oceanside must strive to be “hockey central” for Arizona.
So if Oceanside is synonymous with something other than DYHA, it’s with being the type of rink you’d find in the Midwest or Northeast.
Mims, who played for ASU in the mid 1990s, is proud that the building is not only home to the “new” Jr. Sun Devils and ASU’s NCAA program, but also to ASU’s club program, which rosters two American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division II teams.
While ASU confirmed in January that the NCAA program would call Oceanside home for the near future, Mims is just as excited that ASU’s ACHA club teams plan to stick around for the long term.
“It does show that both Arizona State University and the separate ACHA club program have faith in us to take care of them,” Mims said. “That’s huge.”
What’s also huge? The renovation projects Oceanside is embarking on this spring. While Mims wants to be careful not to oversell any upgrades, “we have to be proactive,” he said.
“It’s 41 years old. So while we’re never going to lose that charm, we can’t rest on that,” Mims explained. “We have to move forward and improve and continue to offer the cleanest and best-run facility.”
Among the plans for the coming months: some locker room renovations; installing new bleachers with improved sight lines and adding bleacher heaters; installing an upgraded scoreboard console; upgrading exterior lighting; replacing boards and glass; and an interior repainting to match the fact that the building’s primary tenants all proudly don Sun Devils maroon and gold.
Name of the Game
While DYHA’s travel teams are still wearing Firebird jerseys for now, that doesn’t mean its players, coaches and administrators aren’t already feeling the excitement of what being “Jr. Sun Devils” brings to the table.
Sherri Koshiol, a member of DYHA’s board of directors and – most importantly – a parent of DYHA youth hockey players – said her kids can’t wait for the new jerseys.
Even still, Koshiol notes, DYHA doesn’t plan to forget where it’s been.
“At the end of the day, there’s 85 feet by 200 feet in that rink where thousands of DYHA players have experienced the magic of hockey. But from the Sharks to the Roadrunners to the Coyotes and the Firebirds and now the (Jr.) Sun Devils, no matter what it’s been our legacy isn’t going away.
“That legacy is excellence in hockey, character development and really advancing the love of the game.”
– Brett Fera