Titans coaches adjusting in second year to foster more growth, on and off ice
Nearly two years ago, Justin Rogers was tasked with rebuilding VOSHA and as a result, the Arizona Titans were born.
What seemed like a shot in the dark to the then-22-year-old hockey director has proven to be an important decision in the growth of youth hockey in Arizona.
The mission for the organization has and continues to be focused solely on player development, both on and off the ice.
“It’s really amazing to be able to give opportunities to players, including players who may have been passed on by other travel organizations, and watch them be so successful in a travel setting,” Rogers added.
To achieve the most development possible, the Titans coaches are huge proponents of USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM). It’s proven to be effective for the coaches to keep players engaged and increase the puck touches so players are getting more out of each practice.
“Being here at the Titans, we have a lot of really good skills coaches who specialize in certain things,” said Titans 14U and skills coach Jarred Smith. “The ADM gets those coaches in small areas and focused with the kids in smaller groups, which really translates into skill development. It’s one of the most effective ways to use ice in terms of developing skill.”
Rogers said the ADM has helped the Titans on an organization level to maintain a similar structure from the Mites Development Program all the way through 16U AA, ensuring similar things are being taught.
As the youngest director in the state, it’s fitting that Rogers made it a point to build a young, highly-skilled coaching staff. It was important to him to find coaches who shared his passion but who also possessed the skills needed to foster development.
“We’re young, but we have a lot of years of playing and we relate very well with the kids,” trainer Jordan Allan said. “We’re here because we want to make an impact and a change.”
“Seeing some of our younger coaches getting involved and being a bigger part of it like Anthony Peralta and Jake Bayer has been great,” Rogers noted. “Not only could they play and did play more recently, but to see them develop as a coach and start to strive on the other side is incredible.”
As the organization entered its second year, it looked to restructure practices providing players with power skating coached by Mike Hensdell, weekly skills coached by Smith and weekly goaltending sessions with Jeff Tecca.
“The addition of skills night with Jarred Smith is definitely a plus because you dedicate an entire day to ADM skills sessions, which is great for every team,” said Titans 12U and 14U coach Steve Majercak. “The advancement of Jordan Allan, a dedicated physical fitness trainer, has been another positive change this season.”
Allan was promoted to the Titans full-time off-ice trainer and continues to help out on the ice for 10U and 12U teams.
“It’s been one of the best experiences of my life – I haven’t worked a day since I have been a part of this organization,” Allan said. “And now, I get to work with every kid and get to know each and every one of them. I’m able to create relationships throughout the whole organization and have a bigger impact.”
Rogers is convinced the passion and enthusiasm the Titans coaching staff has for the game and being able to share that with the players is unmatched. Across the program, the coaches share a genuine care for development.
Stephenson, one of association’s younger coaches, is highly respected among players, parents and fellow coaches. He has been with the Titans from the start and continues to be a vital piece of the program’s foundation.
“Garrett’s patience with the young kids is just phenomenal,” said Majercak. “For someone so young to be doing it and getting so much joy out of the younger kids shows how much he just wants to coach.”
“Having such a skilled coach who wants to coach at a younger level has been absolutely fantastic,” added Rogers. “He continues to be such an asset for us, and the kids love him.”
On the other hand, Titans coaches admire Rogers’ positivity and his ability to connect with the kids, in addition to his fresh perspective on the landscape of youth hockey and where it is going.
“Justin brings a passion to the game that is unmatched,” Stephenson said. “You can tell he grew up here as he loves everything about AZ Ice Arcadia and is dedicated to developing kids here at home.”
“He takes on a lot, and he’s only 24, but he does it well,” added Majercak. “He’s the underdog, he’s coming out of nowhere. He has a plan but he’s not closed-minded to changing his plan for the better, and he’s in it for 100 percent the right reasons, to grow hockey in Arizona and develop players.”
“The coaching staff is a tight-knit group who enjoys spending time together away from the rink,” Stephenson said. “We are a family, and it shows when we step on the ice. If anyone is short, another coach jumps in to fill a spot without question.”
Beyond the internal family-like setting, the Titans have worked hard to create more than just a hockey program.
“On the ice and around the rink, our families are so supportive,” Rogers said. “It starts from the Mites development level all the way up to 16U AA. It’s more than just hockey. It’s a full-blown hockey community.”
“Everyone is connected,” Stephenson added. “There is a family-like atmosphere at the rink from the youngest to the oldest.”
It’s important to the Titans to improve and grow with each season. Rogers said the goal each year is to build on the last and to become more competitive year after year.
“Having a strict program for goaltending coaching, power skating and skills practices has been more beneficial to our players, whether it’s in wins or closer games,” Rogers said.
“We’re starting to see the byproduct of the right development and where it comes into play in a competitive atmosphere.”
— Moriah Hernandez
Top photo/Dennison Stewart; locker room photo/Jennifer Monn
(Dec. 2, 2019)