Mission AZ continues run of success built on pillars of consistency, character, work ethic
Drop in any afternoon or evening to AZ Ice Peoria to watch any of Mission AZ’s nine teams practice, and you’ll notice a consistent message printed right there on their practice gear.
Across the back of each of the program’s approximately 150 players’ practice jerseys is the word “character” in big, bold print.
It’s a pillar of what the Mission program is all about. In everything they do – whether it’s their effort in practice or the challenges they face in games – character is at the forefront of their minds.
It starts with director of hockey operations Jeremy Goltz and trickles down to his coaches and ultimately, to the players at every level.
“Kids walk into the locker room and they hear the same thing every day – we want to be the hardest working team, the most disciplined team, and at the end of the day, that we’re hard to play against,” Goltz said. “We have a blue-collar approach, and we take tremendous pride in that.”
Goltz and his wife, Brandi, founded the Mission program 12 years ago and have built it brick by brick into what it has become today. A big part of its success is the consistency from year to year – all of Goltz’s coaches have been with Mission for six years or longer, and Mission’s board members have been in the same positions for nine years or longer, well past the time frame when their kids aged out of youth hockey.
Even better, Goltz said that Mission’s player retention rate is 85-90 percent from year to year.
“We’re kind of boring,” Goltz said with a laugh. “We’ve added Mission Special Edition this year, which I’m very proud of and which has really helped those kids, but aside from that, we just keep plugging along and doing the things we’ve always done.”
Among Goltz’s longest-tenured coaches are Scott Farber and Doug Cannon.
Farber is in his seventh season with the program and serves this year as the head coach of the Bantam White squad and an assistant with the Pee Wee Red team. He said that the messages preached by the entire coaching staff have remained consistent since he first stepped into the building, and he has enjoyed seeing kids grow up and take what they’ve learned on to the next stages of their lives, whether those stages involve hockey or not.
“We build around hard work, discipline and respect,” Farber said. “That’s something that I introduce at the beginning of each season because those are three things that you can bring to every practice and every game. Ultimately, what we try to do for the kids is build that character, from the Mite program all the way up to the 18U team.”
Cannon is an assistant coach this year with the program’s 14U White and 16U White teams, and has been with Mission for nine seasons.
He said Goltz’s philosophy, his outlook on development and his passion for hockey are infectious. Coaches and players want to be a part of what he’s doing and can clearly see a pathway to success.
“It starts with one person, and that’s Jeremy – he is the reason that I came to Mission,” Cannon said. “My sons have played there, but I don’t currently coach my own kids, so I’m there strictly for Mission and the kids in the program.
“He’s all about the players – developing players and making sure they get the best instruction so they have a future ahead of them whether they want to play college hockey, junior hockey or just complete their youth hockey career. Jeremy provides the foundation for them.”
One of the biggest reasons Cannon has stuck with the Mission program is that Goltz only brings on board coaches who are on the same page as him in terms of their approach. Shaping the staff that way lends itself to a cohesion from level to level that not all programs can boast.
“We all buy into the same philosophy and agree on what we’re going to teach and how we’re going to teach it,” Cannon said. “So when a Mite becomes a Bantam, he knows what direction he’s going in because he’s been taught the same things from the beginning. They all know what we’re trying to do – there’s no confusion and the message is always the same.
“I could guarantee that if a coach is sick and needed me to fill in at a practice or a game, I could fill in and the players would know exactly what I’m talking about. I could have easily stopped coaching when my boys aged out, but I’m still here. Mission does it right and always has done it right.”
With everything Goltz and his fellow coaches do, their biggest goal is developing character in the kids under their charge. While the immediate goal is success on the ice, the staff knows that the lessons that kids learn through hard work, being challenged and facing adversity will pay off for them in the long run.
“I’m spoiled and fortunate that so many of our alumni keep coming back to the program – whether they’re playing hockey or they’re in the professional world,” Goltz said. “I talked to a former player the other day who’s just getting started in the workforce, and he thanked me – his work ethic is there, he shows up on time and he communicates well with his boss.
“To me, hockey and building great kids go hand in hand. If you’re doing the right things, you’re developing character as well. Character development is as important, if not more important, than anything the kids learn about playing hockey.”
It’s clear that winning games and tournaments is a secondary goal for the Mission program. Likewise, maintaining a manageable size is important to Goltz and his coaching staff because they want to be able to assure that every player is the program is getting the same opportunities for development and learning life lessons from coaches pushing the same consistent messages.
They have realized that 9-10 teams is an ideal size for them, as it allows them to go forward with a seamless approach throughout the organization and with its staff.
Goltz said there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing than running the Mission program. Over the years he has had interest from college and junior programs, but he has elected to continue forging ahead with the program he built.
“While that interest is flattering and in some ways attractive, what I have realized is that at the end of the day, this level of hockey is what I’m genuinely passionate about,” Goltz said. “It’s where I like to be.
“You see so many kids who are able to achieve goals that they didn’t even know were in reach. That’s why I keep doing it – that’s what fuels me day in and day out. If I’m having a tough day, you have a good practice the next day and everything’s right back to normal. It’s an overall passion for what I’m doing. I want to see these kids believe in themselves as much as I believe in them.”
— Greg Ball
(Feb. 7, 2018)