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Hockey Participation Climbing in Arizona

Saturday, 07.05.2014 / 2:33 PM / Features
By Matt Shott

GLENDALE -- Earlier this summer, USA Hockey released its numbers for registered ice hockey players per state, which showed an overall increase in participation.

Coyotes fans will be happy to know that with a 17 percent increase in players, Arizona ranked third in new registered players, behind Oregon and Hawaii, but was first in growth among states with an NHL club. The rise in numbers caught the eye of major publications around the country, including The Hockey News, which published an article that declared NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was right in his fight to keep the team in Arizona.

There is no doubt that the hockey scene is rapidly growing in Arizona, which can be attributed to, for the first time in over a decade, the entire hockey landscape in the state having ownership stability.

First, the Coyotes secured their ownership last August, followed shortly by the Ice Den and AZ Ice acquiring both Polar Ice Chandler and Polar Ice Peoria, respectively. Then, AZ Ice Gilbert was purchased by AZ Ice as well, to give themselves a presence on both the East and West sides of the Valley.

Photo by Norm Hall.

"With the new Coyotes ownership, and our acquisition of the Old Polar Facilities into the New Alliance of AZ ICE, the future and stability of Arizona hockey is going to be very exciting," said Jim Rogers, owner of AZ Ice. "With grass root programming and a clear definition of hockey development and infrastructure, I anticipate a national championship coming out of Arizona within the next five years."

We've already started to see Arizona hockey players show up on big stages in the hockey world, including Scottsdale’s Henrik Samuelsson and Brendan Burke battling for junior hockey’s Memorial Cup, Chandler’s Lyndsey Fry winning a silver medal at the Olympics, as well as Zac Larraza, Jeremy Langlois, and Colten St. Clair’s stellar performances in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. With the way hockey participation is rising in Arizona, it won’t be long before even more players start to appear on even bigger stages.

Along with Oceanside and Arcadia Ice rinks in Tempe and central Phoenix, all Arizona rinks are now under the representation of USA Hockey and are committed to developing players along their American Development Model. The Coyotes already work with all of the rinks by providing their Kids First program, which allows kids ages 4-12 the opportunity to try the sport of hockey for free, by renting out the gear and getting first class instruction by each rink's hockey directors and local youth league players. The program saw more than 1,300 kids get a taste of hockey in 2013 and about 25 percent of those kids continued their journey by registering for more classes and leagues.

"When the families have entered into the youth hockey world, they are greeted with a distinctive path of progression onto hockey in our facility that is clearly marked," said Mike DeAngelis, director of the Jr. Coyotes, who play out of the Ice Den in Scottsdale and Chandler. "We take it from there after they reach our front doors."

Obviously having an NHL club in town helps grow interest in the sport, and the Coyotes plan on rolling out new programs over the next couple of seasons to help continue the hockey growth, including a second step program for players to enroll in after completing Kids First clinics, in case they still don’t feel ready for house leagues.

Photo by Norm Hall.

The on-ice hockey clinics offered at Jobing.com Arena last season were a huge success and the team plans on having more this season, including multiple "Try Hockey Free" days with hopes of giving even more people the opportunity to try a sport they might be afraid to try. Some of the clinics will be specifically for girls, in an attempt to grow the girls hockey program, which has always been difficult to develop around the state.

With the climate in Arizona being very difficult to make ice, the Coyotes Hockey Development Program focuses heavily on street hockey to get kids exposed to the sport. Last season, the CHDP visited more than 80 schools and played street hockey with an excess of 32,000 kids during their clinics, with some kids getting their first opportunity to hold a hockey stick.

This year, the Coyotes are working to offer street hockey leagues at different parks and recreation programs around the state. The team will also be continuing its school visits this year traveling all over the state, including to Tucson and Flagstaff, with hopes of eclipsing the numbers it saw last year and exposing more kids to the glorious game of hockey.

"The new ownership for the Coyotes has been much more active in the youth hockey market," said Sean Whyte, Hockey Director for Desert Youth Hockey Association, out of Oceanside. "Their new stability and dedication has sparked the interest in many families to get involved and enroll their children into this wonderful sport."

Big things are coming to the hockey world in Arizona with the key word being "stability," and now that the NHL club and the local rinks have it, the amateur hockey players will be the benefactors.

 
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