With recent move to Tier I, Jr. Sun Devils planning to develop elite-level players
When Brad McCaughey took over as the Desert Youth Hockey Association’s hockey director in 2017, he came in with a plan and a list of items to tackle to make DYHA a preeminent youth hockey club in all of Arizona.
With the association’s recent approval for Tier I status starting with the upcoming 2020-21 season, the biggest item on McCaughey’s list has been crossed off.
“Our program is back, back where we belong,” said McCaughey. “We feel that our location is really good and we’re giving another option to the parents in town to have their kids participate in an elite hockey program.
“We think we have a little bit of an advantage because we’re only dealing with developing elite athletes. We don’t have two sheets of ice, which you really don’t need, but with our nine teams, our sole focus is on developing that elite athlete.”
For the past five seasons, DYHA has played at the Tier II level. The club was Tier I prior to the 2016-17 season and will be entering its 45th season as a program in 2020-21.
“Making the transition from Tier II to Tier I, we’re investing quite a bit of money and we’re adding a lot of additional training,” McCaughey said. “Power Edge Pro is one thing that we think separates us from the rest.”
Power Edge Pro, or PEP, is a company based in Toronto that has worked with DYHA the past few seasons and also with high-end OHL and WHL junior players, in addition to nearly 50 percent of players drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft the past three seasons. PEP also trains players with the U.S. National Team Development Program and the NHL’s Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, as well as NHL stars Connor McDavid, who has been with PEP since he was 10 years old, John Tavares, Jack Hughes, Quinn Hughes, Matt Duchene and Taylor Hall.
“DYHA has become the No. 1 destination for player development for youth players,” said Power Edge Pro CEO Joe Quinn. “By linking with PEP, the performance-proven reactive countering training used for player development, DYHA has the ultimate Tier I program. Parents and players in the Phoenix area that are looking for fresh and innovative development will want to try this new type of training method.
“We are thrilled to be a part of hockey in Arizona and looks forward to promoting DYHA on the PEP website and social media platforms.”
Quinn said working with the Jr. Sun Devils has been a privilege and he expects more progress in the near future.
“Brad is very dedicated and has always been passionate about developing players from the grass roots to higher levels,” said Quinn. “It is this commitment that has allowed Brad to continually grow as a skills and development coach.”
Away from its home rink at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, DYHA will continue to work with Source Performance, a training facility in Scottsdale run by former NCAA and pro player Malcolm Gwilliam.
“DYHA moving up to Tier I is well deserved,” Gwilliam said. “Brad has worked tirelessly to make this happen. The Tier I placement gives DYHA the ability to showcase their abilities on a national level and provide the competitive experience that these athletes need.”
The training aspect Source Performance can provide DYHA is second to none, according to Gwilliam.
“Between growing up and playing at a collegiate and professional level, hockey has always been a passion of mine,” said Gwilliam. “Going through the experience myself, I witnessed firsthand the many missteps and oversights in the education and training of youth athletes. Working with DYHA has given myself the opportunity to make changes at a systematic level for youth hockey.
“What Source Performance has been able to offer is a strength and conditioning program that is built upon both the needs of athletes now and preparation for the future demands of the sport. We analyze each athlete’s body composition, mobility and strength before beginning any training. Based on this information, we can individualize nutrition, supplementation and recovery protocols and create a map for the development of a youth’s off-season and in-season training. By splitting each team into semi-private group training sessions of 4-5 athletes, we can more precisely tailor the workouts to the team. Additionally, we provide at home workouts and coordinate with the DYHA coaches so that the training system is uniform across the board.
“This type of comprehensive effort is the type of training that youth athletes deserve.”
New to DYHA this season is Nick Naumenko, a longtime youth hockey coach in the Valley. Naumenko will work alongside McCaughey as the Jr. Sun Devils’ assistant hockey director.
“There are a lot of like-minded hockey people here that are hyper-focused on the elite athlete like Brad said,” said Naumenko. “It’s my firm belief that in every major hockey market in the United States, any burgeoning market that is growing gives players more choices. The hockey is so much better in those markets because it keeps everybody working – coaches, players, everyone. That’s the biggest thing, too, for us is that the harder the coaches work in this town, the kids are definitely the ones who benefit. That’s what this is about and why we do this.”
Next season’s Tier I coaching lineup for DYHA includes Brad Norton (13U), Todd Collins (14U), Naumenko (15U), Jason Evahnenko (16U) and John Damyanovich (18U).
Jason Wright is also returning as the skills coach for DYHA.
“The overall philosophy of Brad’s staff will help to create a development model for the future in the state of Arizona,” Wright said. “Nothing really changes for me as I have done this here for 20 years at almost every rink in town and with all levels of players. My job is to improve kids’ skills and knowledge of the game.”
With DYHA now one of three Tier I associations in the state, joining the Jr. Coyotes and Arizona Bobcats, Naumenko said competition is definitely a good thing. The Jr. Sun Devils have also formed an affiliation agreement with the Arizona Titans, who play out of AZ Ice Arcadia.
“Now with choices, you’ve got your work cut out for you as a coach,” said Naumenko. “You’ve really got to put in the time knowing the kids are the ones who benefit at the end of the day. So far, there’s been a ton of interest from parents about coming here. Always keep in mind that there’s a lot of parents who probably didn’t even know about the history here. I mean, DYHA was here before any other team was here. They were pumping out Division I college hockey players before there was even another rink.”
Past players for DYHA that have gone on to play pro hockey and college hockey include Auston Matthews, Dusty Collins and Dave Spina, to name but a few.
Previous names of the program include the Phoenix Firebirds, DYHA Firebirds, DYHA Bobcats (when Bobcats were Tier I at Oceanside, they were DYHA teams), Jr. Coyotes and Jr. Roadrunners.
Hiroki Wakabayashi is the DYHA director of goalie instructions and even though he is currently battling cancer, plans to be on the ice as soon as possible to handle the next crop of netminders.
“This is a huge opportunity, especially for goalies, because now we have extra Tier I goalie spots in each age group,” said Wakabayashi. “There are a lot of good young goalies growing in this state who deserve to develop themselves at the Tier I level. We’ve successfully developed our unique and very consistent goaltending program past two seasons, so working with more elite-level goalies is the natural progression to me.”
Prior to McCaughey stepping in as hockey director, Sean Whyte served in that role. He’s now working for the NHL as a youth hockey regional director in the southwestern United States.
“I’m very excited about DYHA taking on the Tier I challenge again,” Whyte said. “I know Brad will not only do well, but will do it right. DYHA’s Tier I history is a very successful story. We won numerous state championships and represented well at the next level. This was back when the player pool wasn’t as plentiful and where many top Arizona players were still leaving the state to play at a higher level elsewhere.
“Now, we are independently striving to build the best Tier I program in the state and providing the best option for young elite players to extend their careers into junior, college and beyond.”
— Matt Mackinder
(July 23, 2020)