Mission’s first Pee Wee team reflects on memories, being pioneers
When Mission Arizona started its hockey program 10 years ago, the jumpstart affiliate had teams that consisted of players who were mainly teenagers.
But seven years ago, that all changed when Mission trotted out its first Pee Wee team.
The group was a handful of 11 year olds, many of whom who had played here and there for other organizations.
“When we started, we were traditionally an older team,” said Jeremy Goltz, the founder and program director of Mission Arizona. “This group kind of came in and we started going younger and younger. They kind of started our younger youth movement. It’s kind of crazy they’ve been here this long.”
Of the group that made up Mission’s first Pee Wee team, six are left — Blake Sutton, Eddie Cannon, Issac Ritschel, Michael Norris, Ricky Zink and coach Doug Cannon.
Now a group of teenagers, they all play for Mission’s 18U Red squad.
And since they’ve been with Mission for seven years of the decade the program has been around, they are the longest-tenured players in organization history.
“It’s just been fun,” said Sutton. “I’ve been with Mission for so long, it’s like I’ve grown up with these kids. I’ve grown up with Mission and it’s a part of me of me now.”
When asked to compare what is different for his players between now and then, Goltz said he’s been fascinated by watching the six players experience life in different ways, all while with the same program for the last seven years.
There have been highs and lows both on and off the ice, Goltz noted.
“When you’re with kids, you think about the stretch of life they’ve been through,” Goltz said. “They’ve gone from being little kids and now a few of them are now taking college classes in their last season. These kids have been with me for almost half of their life. They were just learning how to play the game and now they can pretty much finish my sentences.
“You get attached to these guys when you’re with them for that long. You see them grow up right in front of your eyes.”
As for the players, they noted their conversation topics have also changed over the years.
While they might have talked about hockey and video games back when they were 11 or 12 years old, they still talk about hockey and video games, but they also likely chat about more teenage-centered subjects.
“Nowadays, it’s more talking about what we’re planning on doing in college and if we want to plan on playing hockey,” Sutton said. “It’s a lot of talking about the future.”
As they reflected on the past seven years, many players said they had a hard time believing the years had gone by so fast.
“It was really cool for us being the first Pee Wee team,” said Eddie Cannon. “It’s been cool ever since. I think we helped expand the program. We know how everything works. When we talk to the younger kids, we tell them how the system works.”
Goltz wasn’t the head coach on that first Pee Wee squad, but has coached this group for most of the last seven years. Even now, he said he still sees some of them as the kids who put on the red Mission sweater for the first time.
“It’s gone fast,” Goltz said. “I still have a hard time realizing these guys are all 18 years old.”
So much has changed from seven years ago.
Instead of just skating around and hoping to score, players now know about systems and game plans and take the game much more seriously than they did.
They’re a group of pioneers, a bunch that paved the way for others in the program.
“I’ll definitely miss the boys and Coach Goltz,” Sutton said. “Maybe I won’t miss the hockey in general, but I’ll miss playing with all of my friends.”
Photo/Mission Arizona trailblazers Blake Sutton, Eddie Cannon, Issac Ritschel, Michael Norris, Ricky Zink and coach Doug Cannon were all part of the first-ever Mission AZ Pee Wee team in 2008 and are still with the organization on the 18U Red team in 2015-16.
— Eric Smith