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Q & A: AHU Head Power Skating Instructor Holly Harrington

 

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Getting to know Arizona Hockey Union’s head power skating instructor Holly Harrington:

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Q: How long have you been skating? Coaching?
A: I started skating as a young kid. I’ve been coaching for over 20 years.

Q: What are your titles/roles with Arizona Hockey Union Knights? What do you teach/coach at AZ Ice Gilbert?
A: AHU head power skating instructor for all AHU teams. Role for AZ Ice Gilbert is on-ice director of program development and head of power skating. I run all the on-ice development programs, which are Learn 2 Play Mini Knights, Initiation, Cubs, Mini Mites, Power Skate and Adult Skills, as well as private lessons.

Q: How did you get to where you are now?
A: During my youth, my mom passed away, which was devastating, and my skating couldn’t go any further, so I quite literally joined the circus. I toured with Disney and Fuentes Gasca Ice and other professional show tours for five years. It was 1999, I was awaiting a new show to start, and a hurricane hit Florida. My family asked that I wait until the cleanup was over to move there. In the meantime, I took a job teaching figure skating at Oceanside. Kurt Goar asked me to help with a camp as a volunteer. I’ve been volunteering ever since. Needless to say, I missed the first day of rehearsals for the new show in Florida because I was at Goar Camp. Thanks, Kurt Goar! I stayed on at Oceanside and started working for DYHA as their power skate instructor, later taking on the role of director of youth development program and becoming the director of figure skating at Oceanside.

Back in 2007 is when Terri and Brad Berman at Polar Ice offered me the opportunity to help build the programs at Gilbert. They were preparing the build in Gilbert and Gilbert opened in 2009. I had just had my son and wasn’t sure how I would do it. Terri bluntly said, “Bring your kids to work with you.” With that offer, I was running all Power Skate sessions at all three Polar Ice facilities. Soon, I was leading all Intro Hockey classes at both Chandler and Gilbert Polar Ice, Kids First (now Little Howlers) for 10 years, as well as running Power Skate sessions for Prescott Valley and Flagstaff for the following three years after that. This was a weekly schedule with my babies in tow. My feet were very busy back then. All of this while also growing Gilbert’s hockey program and working for all of the Arizona Hockey Union teams, which is my passion. I love growing programs at AZ Ice Gilbert. That is the most fun thing to do. The programs at AZ Ice Gilbert and Arizona Hockey Union are just filled with awesome people, families and players. I am humbled every day that I get to do the coolest job with the coolest kids in town.

I am still so very thankful to Kurt, Jim Beyer, the Bermans, Stacy Shupe and Arizona Hockey Union, Jim Rogers and many, many more Arizona Hockey people and families for seeing something in me that I didn’t always know was there and allowing me to build on that. I was just an Arizona kid who knew how to skate a little and they were there to push me forward and help me along the way. I am a lucky girl.

"Holly is one of the most passionate coaches I’ve seen. She has a great way of teaching very difficult skating techniques to kids. Having her at my practices and watching her coaching style has definitely made me a better coach." – AHU Mite Silver head coach Mike Russo

“Holly is one of the most passionate coaches I’ve seen. She has a great way of teaching very difficult skating techniques to kids. Having her at my practices and watching her coaching style has definitely made me a better coach.” – AHU Mite Silver head coach Mike Russo

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying, “If you can’t skate, you can’t play.” Does that mean that skating is more important than the actual game?
A: Actually, Kurt Goar and Jim Beyer said that, and said it a lot. So it just stuck as the slogan for Goar Hockey. Back then, kids here were struggling to compete with other traditional markets where ice is easy to come by and there’s a pond in their neighborhood to skate on. You’re skating the whole game.

Not only skating, but moving, pushing, falling, jumping, spinning, turning, talking, yelling, etcetera. This is all happening while stickhandling and shooting a tiny piece of rubber no bigger than the palm of your hand. So yeah, you have to be pretty agile and sturdy on your edges. Coach John Wold, one of the most important people in Arizona Hockey, I feel, worked with one of my old coaches, Dianna Cook. I believe he was what inspired Kurt to ask me to come out to try and teach players some skating skills. Dianna was a superb coach and many players were good because of her pushing you super hard. You worked hard for her and if you didn’t, then the next time you saw her, you worked harder than before. Dianna was the original power skating instructor here in Arizona and was my coach as a kid. She moved to Montana to run a junior team with her husband long before I moved back to Arizona. Dianna was an amazing skater and built some of the best skaters I have ever seen. She never messed around with semantics. Didn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, you’re going to work exactly the same. I have only met one other power skating instructor like her – Carrie Keil. She coaches the U.S. National Development Team in Plymouth, Mich. I had a great opportunity to work with her and see how she did things. She was amazing. She, too, was very much like Dianna. I use things I learned from Dianna and her every day. That’s when you know a coach was good, when just a tiny technique works and lasts decades.

Q: What are some of your professional accomplishments?
A: I was a competitive figure skater for many years. I have a gold in freestyle. I was blessed and was able to work with some of the best coaches in the world from Tommy Allen and Roy Waglien here in Arizona to international coaches like Carlo Fassi. I competed at Southwest Regionals, Pacific Coast Sectionals and was an alternate to Nationals in the Senior Ladies Division, but my true passion was left untapped, I suppose, which was hockey. I’m grateful to those figure skating coaches who taught me discipline as I was a bit of a wild card as a young kid.

Q: What’s the difference in teaching hockey skating vs. figure skating?
A: Everything. I don’t really see any similarities in the sports except they both use edges to skate on. Both hockey and figure skating have become so complex and moved in such different directions that kids today are doing things that just 10 years ago didn’t even exist for younger age groups. You saw these things being done at Bantam and Midget and now I’m teaching these same things to Mites and Squirts. They are so fun to work with because they want to have fun and it is fun because the foundation has been laid from the start of their process. The same goes for figure skating. The bar is being raised for ice sports more than ever. Yes, they are skating and using the same edges but at a higher level you see such complexity in both sports.

Q: What does it take to build a hockey player?
A: A stick and an army. We put a stick right in their hand the first day when teaching them how to skate.

That stick is a part of their body on the ice. We have done this for over 20 years. That is a very important thing for a young player. They feel like a real player. It takes each player to get from the first day on the ice to the first day of a Mites game about 150 hours of work from various outlets. That’s classes, camps, private skating, shooting, stickhandling, power skating, etcetera. We want a stick in their hand while learning skating and stickhandling. We want the player, stick and the ice to be a whole package moving and working together. That’s 150 hours of hard work being put in here. That’s why when a player leaves a program, it’s hard to see them go because that’s 150 hours lost to someplace else that may or may not put in that much time. I was just down in Tucson and ran a power clinic with Ryan DeJoe and Austin Miller. Those guys are the real deal. It takes individuals like that to make players stay with hockey. Those guys are amazing and are true heroes to Arizona hockey. They have no rink and they are still creating players. So one has to ask, “Is it just having the right people in the right positions to create good players?” They’re the right people by the way. Building a player takes a lot. It’s not just one thing. There is no magic pill.

"Holly truly loves what she does. She gives so much dedication to her students to make them the best they can be. With her background in figure skating, her knowledge of edge control and power is the best in the business. Our kids are so lucky to have her." – Special Olympics Arizona skating instructor/figure skating director Cassandra Streit

“Holly truly loves what she does. She gives so much dedication to her students to make them the best they can be. With her background in figure skating, her knowledge of edge control and power is the best in the business. Our kids are so lucky to have her.” – Special Olympics Arizona skating instructor/figure skating director Cassandra Streit

Q: How many hours a day are you on the ice teaching?
A: It varies but usually 10-14 hours a day, depending on the day or week.

Q: What’s your advice to parents getting their kids into hockey or figure skating?
A: Buyer beware. Lots of people say, “Ya gotta get to the next level if you wanna make it.” Make it where? I hope they are talking about high school graduation, college or becoming a good human in life. Your kid is seven or 10 years old. Promises being made by a coach, manager or organization today can change in the blink of an eye, as both hockey and figure skating are a revolving door of circumstances. If your child is good at hockey, they will be found by those who can do good by them. Let your kids have fun on the ice. All kids want out on the ice is to love to skate and play. Let them do that because it’s gone in the blink of an eye, so enjoy the process. It’s a process, not a journey, by the way.

Photos/Conrad Straube

— Sean Phillips

(Jan. 25, 2019)