Mission Arizona has carved out niche in desert with family-focused program
Jeremy Goltz, the program director with Mission Arizona, frequently refers to his program as consistent and boring, but he considers those positive adjectives.
He knows that winning championships catches the headlines and that the day in and day out work isn’t exciting, but he’s also smart enough to understand that the process of the daily grind is what leads to the results that he and his staff – as well as players and their parents – are seeking.
The 2016-17 season marks Mission’s 11th since it started as a fledgling program with just three teams, and Goltz and his staff have stuck closely to the plan he laid out more than a decade ago. The program prides itself on a family atmosphere, consistency in coaching from top to bottom, a focus on development over winning and creating a culture that leaves players loving the game and wanting to continue playing long after they age out.
“There are so many programs out there in which each team is on an island – one coach doesn’t know what the other coach is doing, and vice versa, and they don’t know the players other than the ones on their roster,” Goltz explained. “When you join the Mission organization, the No. 1 thing is that everybody plays for a common jersey. Each individual player and coach is a small piece of a very big puzzle.
“When you play for Mission, you’re part of a great tradition. With our history and our consistency in our coaching staff, we’ve been able to maintain that atmosphere. You’re part of a community, and everybody is pulling on the same side of the rope.”
Mission started in 2006 as a specialty organization for just Midget-aged players. The program had three teams and four coaches in its first season. Three years later, Mission moved to AZ Ice in Peoria, and eventually expanded to as many as 14 teams.
Goltz thinks he has found the sweet spot with nine teams this season, from Mites to Midget 18U. Mission AZ has eight coaches that assist Goltz throughout the program. Doug Cannon’s seven years is the longest tenure of the assistants, while Scott Farber and Mitch Wasser have logged six seasons. Perry Tessmer has been with Mission four years, and Adam Brill and Kelsey McLean are each in their third season. Rob Downing is new to the program this fall.
“That’s a small handful of guys doing a ton of work,” Goltz said.
“We got up to 14 teams one year, but I felt like we were losing some of our personality and what made us a strong program. We’ve had opportunities to grow and still do, but having nine or 10 teams is perfect for us in terms of what we want to accomplish. We feel like we can provide the personal touch that we’re so proud of and have been for so long.
“As the hockey director, I know every kid in the organization, and every kid knows me. To me, that’s part of the responsibility.”
Kurt Goar, the coach-in-chief for the Arizona Hockey Union, has known Goltz since he was playing Bantam hockey when Goar first started coaching. He watched Goltz progress as a player through the college ranks and eventually ended up as teammates on a men’s team. When Goltz started talking about getting into coaching, Goar encouraged him, thinking that he had the right personality and temperament for the assignment.
“I’ve watched him develop over the years and how Mission has evolved in his time running the program,” Goar said. “When he started, Mission was sort of an alternative to the madness in the youth hockey world with players changing sweaters every season.
“I don’t think any other club can say they do what Mission does in terms of unity throughout the organization. Jeremy does a great job getting people to understand that it’s about a lot more than wins and losses – it’s about family and the integrity of the game.”
One of Goltz’s guiding principles throughout his career coaching hockey and developing players has been to put kids in positions where they will be challenged, but to also have a chance to succeed. That’s partly the reason that he has avoided the temptation to pursue some AAA teams for Mission AZ. While some hockey directors might push for that designation for the prestige of it, Goltz believes that the Phoenix area hasn’t developed as a hockey hotbed enough to support AAA hockey just yet.
“When we first started, we were trying to make our mark and we got enamored with AAA hockey,” Goltz recalled. “We pushed it for the first couple years. We were going head to head with the teams from P.F. Chang’s.
“But I look at where we are as a state compared to what I see across the country, and I don’t see that we’re truly a AAA state. Our realistic approach at this point is to play Tier II hockey and do it really well. The kids are still going to get great opportunities and exposure to coaches at the junior and college levels.”
Goar praised Goltz’s longevity, but said he isn’t surprised that the foundation Goltz built in the early years has led to success.
“There’s a reason he has lasted this long,” Goar said. “And I think it’s because of all the little things he’s doing. He’s got a lot of his former players coaching for him, and that says a lot about how they feel about the program. Jeremy is a great ambassador for the game and our state. It’s pretty cool to say he’s your colleague and friend.
“He has found a good balance between running a business and maintaining his integrity as far as the hockey goes, and I have always admired that. I think Mission is here to stay – I don’t see it going anywhere. Kids want to play for Mission. I know kids whose families drive all the way across town to play for them, so obviously, Jeremy is doing something right.
“It’s really a family there – they call themselves the Red Army. You’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters playing at different age groups there. I think it’s pretty cool.”
A little more than a decade ago, Goltz started Mission with the goal of offering a new approach to youth hockey in the Phoenix area. Looking back at how far the program has come, he is proud of the progress, but is always looking forward.
“I like where we’re at, and we’ve carved out a niche,” Goltz said. “Our stated goal has been to get Arizona its second AA national championship, and we’re always working to reach that goal.
“I’m always trying to find a way to better our program. I want kids to want to keep playing after they’re done here, whether that’s at the junior level, in college or on an adult hockey team.”
Photo/Adam Cogan/TSS Photography
— Greg Ball