With new philosophy at Mite levels, Flagstaff raising compete level with youngsters
The Flagstaff Youth Hockey Association’s (FYHA) objective is simple, and it is very succinct in its mission statement.
Sanctioned through USA Hockey, the primary goal for the association is to provide an environment “where our youth can learn the game of hockey and excel at the recreational, regional and national level.”
Under the direction of an all-volunteer Board of Directors, the FYHA offers hockey opportunities for children aged 18 and younger in both its recreational (house) and competitive (travel) hockey programs. After age 14, FYHA players can join the Flagstaff Avalanche High School club at the junior varsity and varsity levels, or otherwise skate at the FYHA Midget level with the Northstars’ 16U or 18U teams.
This season has shown that change is good and for the better in Flagstaff.
The FYHA has given its younger rec-level players something they’ll always remember – a chance to compete against one another and the opportunity to hang a championship banner inside the Jay Lively Arena.
The Northstars are taking all of their 6U and 8U Mite players and dividing them into two groups – one of seven- and eight-year-olds and one of kids that are six years old and under. With four teams in each group, the teams will compete every weekend through February in cross-ice games and once March rolls around, playoffs will be contested and the winning 6U and 8U teams will earn trophies.
“We want the rec kids to play for a purpose and know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, not just the end of the season,” said FYHA president Kevin Tye. “We are all thrilled that this is happening and we think this has been a very fun and exciting season so far for these 6U and 8U kids. We’re so happy we were able to pull this together.”
Games started the first weekend in December.
“We’ve had these 6U and 8U programs for a long time, but the change this year is that we developed teams with names and rosters and a league schedule,” said former FYHA president and current Flagstaff USA Hockey American Development Model (ADM) coordinator Dave Bereson. “In the past, we had a bunch of kids in blue jerseys and a bunch of kids in white jerseys and every Saturday, they’d come out and play, but we never had any team cohesion. Sometimes, you’d end up with too many kids in white or too many in blue, so we’d have to scramble to make teams.”
This year, a schedule was created where teams plays two weeks straight and then one week off with all eight teams rotating through the schedule.
“This makes it so much easier for the parents, who can plan and know that their kids play two weekends and then don’t that next weekend,” Bereson explained. “That also seems to have helped with retention and keeping kids coming every Saturday.”
FYHA received donations of jerseys from the Arizona Coyotes and all team names for the 6U and 8U teams are from now-defunct minor league teams, namely the Rockets, Rebels, Clippers and Generals.
The players will also rotate positions with a new way of running players out for the goalie position. All players will get to strap on the pads and be a goaltender on a rotating schedule over the course of the season. Tye said that “getting interest in the goalie position is also something we want to explore.”
“I think one of the biggest and most important parts of this is that we will be strictly adhering to USA Hockey ADM standards with the cross-ice games, small-area games,” Tye said. “We hope this takes root and other associations in Arizona will follow suit.”
Learning the game is obviously the most crucial aspect of the new way of running the Mites program, but Bereson reiterated that it’s much more than that.
“We’re also seeing the kids getting to know one another, rather than just throwing them all out on the ice,” Bereson said.
And making the 6U and 8U programs more competitive is simply a bonus component for the overall makeup of the FYHA.
“What we decided for our community is that we know the kids keep score,” Bereson said. “No matter what, the kids keep score. I know the ADM says not to keep score, but we keep score. We felt like, they keep score in baseball and soccer, so by keeping score with this, it’s just another way to keep the kids engaged. This is my sixth year doing this and this year, we bought scoreboards and taped them to the glass where all three ponds have a scoreboard. At the end of the day, the kids can see who won and who lost and then in the back, we’ll have another board posted where the kids can see which teams had the most points.”
The March tournament will have the first-place team play the fourth-place team and the second-place team play the third-place team in a round robin format.
“These kids work hard and they should know who wins,” said Bereson. “For our community and doing this for 6-7 years, we have realized that the score and the standings and having cohesion does matter and keeps these kids coming every Saturday.”
FYHA embraces and promotes the core values set forth by USA Hockey:
A. SPORTSMANSHIP – Foremost of all values is to learn a sense of fair play. Become humble in victory, gracious in defeat. We will foster friendship with teammates and opponents alike.
B. RESPECT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL – Treat all others as you expect to be treated.
C. INTEGRITY – We seek to foster honesty and fair play beyond mere strict interpretation of the rules and regulations of the game.
D. PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE AT THE INDIVIDUAL, TEAM AND ORGANIZATIONAL LEVELS – Each member of the organization, whether player, volunteer or staff, should seek to perform each aspect of the game to the highest level of his or her ability.
E. ENJOYMENT – It is important for the hockey experience to be fun, satisfying and rewarding for all participants.
F. LOYALTY – We aspire to teach loyalty to the ideals and fellow members of the sport of hockey.
G. TEAMWORK – We value the strength of learning to work together. The use of teamwork is reinforced and rewarded by success in the hockey experience.
Photos/Sean Openshaw Photography
— Matt Mackinder