Kachinas thrilled to be awarded Tier I status as Shott’s dream comes true
In one sense, the Arizona Kachinas’ rise to Tier I status as an amateur hockey development program came very quickly.
In another, the official call from the selection committee on Jan. 14 didn’t come quite fast enough.
The Kachinas’ rise to the highest competition level of youth hockey at all three age levels — 14U, 16U, 19U – brought cheers of joy and celebration for girls currently playing in the program and the coaches who have worked had to make it a reality. No longer will girls have to travel out of state and wear a different jersey to play for a Tier I team.
But for Coyotes senior director of hockey development Lyndsey Fry, the most vital component of getting the Kachinas to the finish line was missing. Her partner, friend and guiding force of Coyotes youth hockey, Matt Shott, passed away on Dec. 19 after a courageous battle with cancer.
To the end, Shott remained focused on his decade-long quest to build youth hockey and push it over the finish line. It came just a week after his memorial service at Gila River Arena.
“Even when he was in hospice, he was laser-focused on reaching that goal. He would say, ‘Lyndsey you have to get on that (committee hearing) phone call, you have to get it done,'” Fry said. “I must have told him a dozen times that we have this and we’re ready.
“When we got the final phone call, it was so emotional. All anyone could think about was how happy Matt would be. To deliver on that, to grant a dying man his final wish and close that circle was incredible. But to not be able to share and celebrate with him and say, ‘We did it,’ was the hardest part.”
When Shott began his quest to grow youth hockey in Arizona a decade ago, there were less than 100 girls playing. Now there are 1,000 across the state, but despite the growth, the very best players had to join teams out of state to play against youth hockey’s best.
Not anymore. After playing a hybrid Tier I/Tier II schedule last year, the Kachina proved they could hang with the top-level talent – something that was only a dream when Fry began playing hockey as a teen.
“At the end of the day, if you’re goal was to play NCAA Division I or Division III hockey in college, you’re only option was to leave the state,” Fry said. “Many girls like me, who wanted that experience of Tier 1 competition, had to go to California or Colorado or St. Louis or even New York because staying home wasn’t possible.”
Things have changed. More Tier 1 teams are popping up in the West, allowing hockey parents to save on the high cost of travel and see more of their children’s games in person. The best players can now stay home and within the Kachinas program – which in turn will attract even more girls to the sport.
“Matt was the one who started everything, and things accelerated in 2016-17 when we built up the “Small Frys” program,” Fry said. “There was a five-year span when we blew every other NHL market out of the water when it came to growth before the Kachinas were even a thought. The question is how far can you take it?
Now advancing to Tier 1 status, Fry’s goal is to grow and expand the number of teams around the Valley to feed the top program and continue to attract the girls had to play on boy’s teams to sharpen their skills to the Kachinas.
“When I played there was such a small pool of girls, which lead to a lot of variability in skill level,” she said. “On a team, you would have three, four, five girls that were solid players and then a significant drop off. It has always been the challenge to get the best girls to play in a girl’s program.”
The results tell the story. Last year’s 14U Kachinas played in the USA Hockey Tier II National Championships and those girls are advancing through the program.
Ashtyn Silva – the daughter of Arizona Coyotes equipment manager Tony Silva – is a hockey lifer and has been visiting the team’s locker room since she was six years old.
“I still have a picture of me and Shane Doan when I was really little,” she said with a smile.
Silva is a forward on the 16U Kachinas who won three games and tied one in a tournament in Colorado last weekend. The Tier I designation comes at a perfect time for girls her age as the pursue their dreams in the sport.
“We’re able to play against the best teams and prepare for playing in college,” Silva said. “I love to play hockey and would love to stay home and play at Arizona State. Other girls on the team want to play at other colleges.
“Matt was my coach last year. This was his dream for us. To have it happen now is amazing for us, but we all wanted it for him too. He’d be really proud.”
— Jerry Brown/Arizona Coyotes
(January 26, 2022)