Shop Talk: Hockey growth in Arizona due to very passionate people
Recently, after one of the Arizona Coyotes prospect camps at AZ Ice Peoria, I met with Matt Shott, the director of amateur hockey development for the Coyotes, and Sean Whyte, who is the Southwest regional director of the “Learn to Play” program with the NHL.
Matt has been working to grow hockey statewide since he took the job with the Coyotes five years ago and has definitely gone above and beyond his duties. Matt will be helping to coach the DYHA 8U and the Jr. Coyotes 2002 Tier I teams this upcoming season.
The Coyotes have started school street hockey clinics and donation of street hockey gear, to having NHL players drop in unannounced to local rinks to skate on ice with the local house and travel teams. It is what a hockey team in a non-traditional hockey market needs to do and Matt and the Coyotes do it well. Matt and the Coyotes have also partnered with the Arizona High School Hockey Association and the One Step Bobcats.
Sean is a Valley hockey icon, having played for the Phoenix Roadrunners and Phoenix Mustangs ice hockey teams and the Phoenix Cobras inline team. After his playing career, Sean was the hockey director at Ozzie Ice and at Oceanside with the DYHA. Sean has positively influenced many hockey players, from house to travel to men’s leagues – one of the truly good guys we have in the state. If you haven’t met Sean, he is a big, burly man with the roar of a lion and the heart of a saint. It is apparent that the NHL is really putting resources into growing the sport of hockey. Sean is in charge of seven Western U.S. NHL markets and boy, did the NHL pick the right person for the job!
In our meeting, I listened to what Sean, Matt and the Coyotes had planned to grow hockey. It put a big smile on my face. Finally, on a large scale, we have the right people and resources in place to grow the sport. A big push will be placed on the Little Howlers program, which gets kids on the ice for the first time. The Little Howlers program had been in place for several years and introduced hundreds of new kids to the sport, but with Sean and the NHL involvement, it is now going to be a program run nationwide under the same guidelines.
I liked what I was hearing on the ice hockey level as they were also including Flagstaff and Tucson in the program. I suggested they look at implementing a similar program to inline hockey programs in Lake Havasu, Prescott and Yuma. They had not really thought of that at the time. It might not be immediately, but I do think down the line they will feel as passionately as me about those inline markets. All three of us agreed that hockey is hockey whether it be street, ice or inline.
After our meeting, which included many great hockey stories from Sean about players we both played with or know – and if you know Sean, you know he has some great stories – I walked away feeling renewed and refreshed about the direction of hockey statewide.
Not once did we talk about any travel program. We spent the entire time on how to get new players involved and Sean and Matt stressed their goals on the retention rate that they wanted to achieve with the Little Howler program. High goals were set, but having known both of them for years, I think they are attainable.
It’s truly amazing what you can accomplish working with such outstanding people. I am proud to work with both in helping to grow the sport and proud to call both Matt and Sean my friends.
Randy Exelby is the owner of Behind The Mask Hockey Shops.