With Coyotes’ support, AHSHA making jump to next level
Admittedly, high school hockey in Arizona is not on the level of the game as it is in traditional markets in Minnesota, Michigan and New England.
But is the Arizona High School Hockey Association (AHSHA) on a positive swing upwards with growing numbers and increased competition?
This season, the Arizona Coyotes came on board as a partner with AHSHA and the results have been phenomenal.
“Obviously, the Coyotes are a huge influence on the growth of high school hockey in Arizona and there is no better partner for us to have,” said AHSHA Premier general manager Kenny McGinley. “Our league doesn’t just value growth in terms of number of players, but rather in value returned. High school hockey in a market like Arizona is unique because it offers our players the opportunity to represent their school and play in front of their friends and family. Travel teams play a very small percentage of their games locally due to the need to play higher competition that is offered in other parts of the country.
“The Coyotes offer more than just financial assets. An NHL team as a partner offers a level of credibility and respect. A large challenge for high school hockey programs is the lack of support from their schools. We believe that having an NHL team on board can help bridge the gap and grow the game in Arizona. We will also be able to offer new programs such as the spring-summer High School Beginner Hockey League, more player development and rebranding that will provide a solid foundation for long-term stability.”
Truth be told, the AHSHA-Coyotes partnership had the wheels in motion some five years ago when Matt Shott was hired by the Coyotes as the director of amateur hockey development.
“This partnership is something that was on my radar when I first started with the Coyotes when the old ‘Thunder on Ice’ regime was still in place,” said Shott. “That group wanted, pretty much, what we are currently providing to the league, except we didn’t have the finances back at that time. When the leadership changed, and people like Tim Reckell, Kenny McGinley, Tait Green, Lauri Griebel, Lori Dragosh, Marc Fritsche and many others came in, they understood that this relationship would take time to form and began working closer with the team and, more or less, making it a two-way street for both groups.”
When the second round of applications for the NHL’s Industry Growth Fund came out, Shott knew this was an opportunity to take the partnership to a new level and help give the league more recognition and more respectability.
It’s been all that, and then some, as the grant was awarded.
“I think it really all starts at the bottom with the focus, both locally and nationally at USA Hockey, towards getting young kids between the ages of 4-9 involved in the game through various initiatives,” said AHSHA board member Jon Shivener. “While Arizona as a whole sees its youth registration numbers increase year after year at those age levels, the pool of potential high school players is going to naturally increase as those kids get older. AHSHA needs to be able to capitalize on that growth so that they themselves can evolve and grow for the better as an organization.
“And we feel the Coyotes partnership is one way of doing that.”
McGinley concluded by saying that the sky is the limit for AHSHA.
“To my knowledge, this year was our largest by total numbers over the past 5-6 years,” he said. “More importantly than that, the quality of hockey continues to be on the rise. We have seen more and more players move on to higher levels of hockey after developing their skills in AHSHA. Our supplemental teams, AHSHA Premier and Team Arizona, have continued to improve year after year and compete with elite high school programs throughout the country. Our fan base at games improves constantly, exemplified by last year’s D1 championship game which featured a capacity crowd at Ice Den Scottsdale.
“We expect this year to be no different.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Jan. 29, 2018)