Jr. Sun Devils taking huge strides to maximize program’s offerings
Brad McCaughey is in his third season as the hockey director and coach-in-chief for the Desert Youth Hockey Association and in that time, has put his own stamp on the program while piggybacking off the initiatives put in place by his predecessor, Sean Whyte.
Whyte stepped down to take a role as a regional youth hockey director in the NHL in the summer of 2017.
McCaughey said that the Jr. Sun Devils program was very healthy when he came in and loved what Whyte did.
“Sean did a great job in building the program, and when I came in, I let the board know that my interest lies in the future and working on adding to an already excellent program,” McCaughey said. “The infrastructure is in place.”
Just recently, DYHA has invested in the Power Edge Pro (PEP) on-ice training system, something McCaughey says has endless benefits.
“The system works with these players getting pucks off, you know, getting the puck off their stick and is designed to push the puck to open space and get players to focus on multiple skills at once,” said McCaughey. “And it’s a pretty popular system amongst NHL players and college players and kids of all levels and we think it’s something we’re going to continue to build on.
“But the way the game is played these days, we think that system is a great training device. Therefore, we’ve made the financial commitment to be a PEP organization, and we’re looking forward to continuing to grow that.”
Also new to DYHA is the program’s goaltending coach, Hiroki Wakabayashi.
“He’s really taking ownership of the goalies,” said McCaughey. “I put a lot on him when he came on board because I wanted him to own these goalies and get personal with them and train one-on-one and I think the goaltenders are getting a lot of extra special attention from Hiroki. He has taken ownership and he knows all his goalies and I think he’s definitely a big part of our organization.
“He’s fighting a battle with cancer right now, and he has a long battle ahead, but we’re going to do what we can do to help him.”
Kristina Keil was also added to DYHA this season as the head power skating coach because as McCaughey bluntly said, “If you can’t skate, you can’t play hockey.”
“I have some history with her mom back when she taught me how to skate when I was at the University of Michigan and she was the head power skating instructor for USA Hockey,” McCaughey said. “They have the skating treadmill business in Michigan that I’ve had my boys on and, you know, I think it’s the single best skating training device I’ve seen.
“It’s not just the treadmill, it’s the curriculum that comes with it. Step 1, we got Kristina here and Step 2, we’re trying to move in the direction of getting the All-N-Stride skating treadmill business in our rink (Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe). I think first and foremost, hockey is a game that requires a certain skill and that’s skating and if you can’t skate, you can’t play it. That’s the bottom line. It’s the most important aspect and I think that edge work and stuff like that is worked on on the ice, but this treadmill really, really helps kids of all ages at all skill levels improve their skating, which is flat out the No. 1 aspect of hockey and you could always get better at skating.
“Skating is a skill. Shooting is a skill. Those are skills you can improve on as long as you’re willing to put the time and effort into doing it.”
Down the road, and perhaps in the not-too-distant future, McCaughey wants to see the Jr. Sun Devils move up to become a Tier I hockey association.
“Well, I think I’ve made no secret about it that we would like to enter the Tier I realm at some point in time when the opportunity is right,” said McCaughey. “And I think it just comes from a point where I think we have a lot to offer and we want to work with the highest level of hockey players in the state. And we will want to develop Arizona hockey players. In order to work with the best, you need to be a Tier I program.
“We haven’t been secretive about it. We do want to move in that direction, and we think we can bring a big program to the table. I mean, everyone has coaches, and everyone has ice. Nowadays, it’s what else do you have? Because in hockey, there’s a lot to get to the highest levels of hockey. It’s a lot more than just being talented. Players need some hockey sense. They need to be coachable. They need to have a team-first attitude.”
In being proactive about the potential lateral move to Tier I, there may be changes coming soon enough to Oceanside.
“We’re in discussions with the board right now about possibly putting an addition on the building because I think we need a video room,” McCaughey said. “I think video is a great teaching tool, but it needs to be easily accessible to your coaches. Coaches put in a lot of time and effort and if they’ve got to go home and juggle through film clips and try to create stuff, it’s just not going to happen. So I think we need a video room here and I also think we need a little off ice facility out back.
“And we’re talking about those kinds of things. I think that’s all part of putting together a well-rounded program and showing these players and teaching these players at an early age that it’s not all about who could skate the best or shoot the best. It’s a team game, right?”
Along with Wakabayashi and Keil, the Jr. Sun Devils have also brought on Jason Wright as the association’s skills coach.
“I think we’re putting up a pretty good team together,” said McCaughey said. “Jason has come over and he doesn’t have a lot of time, but he likes our vision and he stepped in and he’s helping out as our skills coach. He’s a big advocate of PEP and we’re going to be running PEP sessions next summer. And hopefully soon, Jason will be able to step in and play a bigger role in in our program.
“He certainly believes that there’s a lot more than just how fast you can skate around hard and how hard you can shoot the puck. It’s teaching these kids skills and team play.”
Behind the benches, the DYHA coaching staff is one that continues to grow and develop right alongside the players on the ice.
McCaughey said that is a sign of the game getting better and better in Arizona as a whole.
“I think coaches are growing all across the Valley,” he said. “I mean, the coaching in hockey in general is improved tremendously in the Valley over the years. One of the problems we have is here is we have a lot of first-generation hockey players whose parents never played the game. And so when hockey started here a long time ago, there weren’t a lot of hockey players here coaching, so parents had to volunteer to coach.
“But as the games got bigger and we got more rinks, and the Coyotes came into town and we got a lot of retiring hockey players here, we got a lot more knowledgeable coaches that want to give back and get behind the bench. So I think the coaching in general in Arizona has taken a step up, which is going to, of course, result in our rank reaping some of those benefits as well.”
Off the ice, the Jr. Sun Devils have begun training with Source Performance, a group based in the Valley headed up by former Michigan Tech and pro player Malcolm Gwilliam.
“He is Auston Matthews’ off-ice trainer, and he works a lot of NHL clientele and professional athletes,” said McCaughey. “And he is working with our teams from 14U and up. They’re building their own facility just up the road and our players go work with him once a week. Adding someone of that caliber to the program has been a big benefit and we’re looking to make him an even bigger part as we as we move forward with more of the off-ice conditioning side of things.”
At the end of the day, McCaughey believes that DYHA is taking all the necessary steps to not only continue to be a top program in the Phoenix area, but to stay above the curve when it comes to offering players and families many different options, on and off the ice.
“These are all the things that help make this program – it’s not me,” said McCaughey. “Everyone’s got coaches, ice and players, but if you want to build something special, surround yourself with good people and everything will fall into place.”
“The off-ice is something we started this year and said, ‘You know what? Let’s get that relationship going.’ And that’s going to continue. We’re looking at the addition on the building, the video room and the skating treadmill, and none of it happens quick enough for me, right?
“I would like to be able to, you know, snap my fingers and have everything happen overnight. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that don’t goes into these decisions and getting approval from the board. So it’s happening at a decent pace, but that’s kind of the big picture and that’s what we’re working towards.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Jan. 9, 2020)