Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

DYHA reopens Mites program on highly successful note


The Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) has implemented its Jr. Sun Devils Mite team back into full effect after a number of years of dormancy.

The team began the 2015-16 with a clean slate, starting with a camp over the spring season to recruit players. The two head coaches, Kayman Wong and John Curry, signed on to help the team progress and move forward.

“In May, we had to start over by recruiting and with tryouts,” Wong said. “We have an interesting group – it’s a hybrid program with both travel and house players.”

The team focuses on practice and improving the skills of the kids and showcased its progression by participating in its first tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Peoria.

“The boys held themselves and listened to what we had to say,” Wong said. “They showed up and played hard – I saw a lot of smiles from the parents as well as the kids. It was a win-win all around. We played some great organizations, including a team from Las Vegas, who we will try to arrange to play again.”

The tournament was the first time DYHA kept score officially. The Mite team went 1-1-2 in the tournament against teams that are more established, teams that the Mites wouldn’t typically play. The Jr. Sun Devils were able to see different levels of competition and to experience how to engage in playing those teams.

“It’s good for our team to see a high level of hockey,” Wong said. “Our job as coaches is to make sure we develop their skill and love of the game win, lose or draw.”

DYHA’s Mites also played with other local teams, who they plan to travel to Flagstaff with to compete in the future. The team plans to split into two teams to travel to a Las Vegas tournament in the beginning of 2016, with the other half going to a mini-jamboree in Flagstaff, where both teams will spend their first trip overnight as a team in a hotel.

“Every child will get the experience of being in a hotel,” Wong said. “They don’t care about the record, but they will remember the camaraderie, staying up late with their teammates, and having fun with team building activities.”

While the coaches were trying to get the boys to learn to be competitive and win in the recent tournament, the team had goals of their own.

“During the games, the boys were standing on the bench and having a conversation about how fun it is to be a goalie – we rotate kids to the goalie position so they all have tried it once,” Wong explained. “They are just out there having a good time, giving their team goalies a hug, dogpiling, at the end of the game.”

Two players on the Jr. Sun Devils Mites – Justin Blades and Griffin Brown – both saw their love of hockey and their start in the sport grow through family members.justin

Tracy Blades, Justin’s mother, is happy to have a program where he can play in the same organization as his older brother, Jeffrey, who plays on DYHA’s 16U AA team.

“Jeffrey was playing hockey and he’s 10 years older than Justin,” Blades said. “So we took Justin to an open skate to see if he likes skating, and he wanted to play like his big brother.”

Justin started playing hockey at age four and recently participated in the Mites camp last May and loved it, so his mom decided to continue with the new Mites team.

“He just loves the competition,” Tracy said. “He’s competitive because he has two older brothers and he’s all about sports, playing games, and winning.”

Blades takes the same route to advise her son as the Mites coaches do. The coaches are always telling the team to never stop moving their feet on the ice.

“We will also watch ESPN or NHL Network at home, and we point out how the players are never standing still and they keep moving,” said Tracy. “It doesn’t matter what level you are in, the coaches all say the same things.”

Justin has had a variety of hockey experience, including his family billeting a player from Sweden, to traveling to Las Vegas for hockey tournaments.

“Our plan is to support Justin to go as far as his talent can take him.” Tracy said.

Justin’s teammate, Griffin Brown, also has a family member who plays with DYHA – his cousin, Brenden, on the 14U AA team. Griffin’s mother, Jessi Brown, noticed as the two boys were getting older that they had less in common, so she decided to find something for them to bond over.

As fate would have it, enter the DYHA.

“When the hockey program had openings on Saturdays, he had a commonality with his cousin,” Jessi said. “Once Griffin started, he just kept smiling – he doesn’t stop smiling on the ice.”

Griffin’s mom describes him as a team player, but she wants to instill a more competitive edge in him. Brown’s philosophy on how to teach her son to improve his skills goes off the ice as well.

“We talk about how not to compare the kids against each other, but against themselves, to see how far they have come on their own,” said Jessi. “He’s always having fun, but I take videos of him, and we compare them to what he has done in the season.”

For Griffin, to see how much he has improved is his motivation to work harder. Wong shares the same vision as the parents on the Mites program.

— Katy Wolpoff

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