Arizona Rubber

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Mission’s summer league has definite throwback feel

 

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Coming off a season in which its 18U AA team won a state championship and played in the title game at the USA Hockey National Championships, it would be easy for players and coaches with Mission AZ’s youth hockey program to be experiencing a little bit of burnout.

After all, tacking on a handful of extra weeks to the end of an already long regular season, and playing at high intensity game after game with so much on the line would give anybody the feeling that they need to kick back and put their feet up for a while.

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But the program and director of hockey operations Jeremy Goltz have been energized by the opportunity to participate in a favorite annual tradition that gets everyone throughout the organization fired up – the Goltz Summer Hockey League.

In stark contrast to the feel of the regular season, the summer league gets players on the ice one night a week for games without coaches or pressure – the kids are encouraged to have fun and enjoy the pure fun of playing hockey. It’s a throwback idea, but it’s one that works.

“It’s run pretty much by the players,” Goltz said. “They have a blast with it. It’s supposed to be fun, and it is. It’s low-key, and it’s exactly what these kids need right now, in my opinion.”

While games are played at Mission’s rink in Peoria, the players come from all over the Phoenix area – not just the Mission program. The season runs from mid-April through mid-June and features games one night a week. There’s a 5-on-5 division for “Big Fellas” on Monday nights that serves players Midget age and up (including some Mission alumni), and a 4-on-4 “Lil’ Guys” division on Tuesday nights that’s for Bantams and below.

Because the emphasis is on fun, the Big Fellas division holds a player draft before the season that resembles a fantasy football draft among friends, and teams in both divisions are encouraged to come up with unique nicknames.

Goltz knows that the regular season can be a grind, with practices and games taking on a serious tone as coaches and players try to maximize development. But there’s significant value in getting away from that for a few months and simply enjoying the game for what it is – and that’s largely focused on fun. He gets on the ice with a microphone and does pre-game and in-game interviews, and video from each game is posted online with comedic commentary provided by Goltz himself.

The players eat it up, and there’s no doubt that the break from serious play and the camaraderie developed helps them as they start up the next season in late summer.

Goltz emphasized that things have changed drastically since he was a kid growing up in Chicago, where he and his buddies would walk to the closest frozen pond during the winter months and play pickup hockey. That doesn’t mean a similar atmosphere can’t be created with a little effort and creativity.

That’s exactly what the Goltz Summer Hockey League is trying to accomplish. Goltz emphasizes that the league – in its 13th season this spring and summer – is all about playing in a relaxed atmosphere, staying in shape and discovering the fun that can be had playing offseason hockey. He has said that there is nothing like it in the sport at the youth level.

“In a lot of places, things have been overdone with kids being pressured to play a sport year-round, with the feeling that they’re not going to make a team if they don’t,” Goltz said. “This is basically our version of street hockey – they get to go out there and be kids for an hour a week, and it’s an absolute blast.”

— Greg Ball

(June 5, 2019)