WAYNE, N.J. – Giancarlo Sears may only be 6 years old, but he already knows one of the most important aspects of hockey.
“I love to pass the puck to everybody,” said Giancarlo, who plays for the Woodbridge Wolfpack 6U squad. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time.”
His teammate, 5-year-old John Gall, wasn’t as patient.
"Are we going to play yet?” John asked his mother, Victoria Porcaro. “It’s so exciting to be here.”
The youngsters were at the Wayne Ice Vault this past weekend to take part in an American Development Model 8U Jamboree, a two-day smorgasbord of hockey for kids who are beginning their march down the hockey path.
More than 100 youth teams from all over New Jersey converged on the Ice Vault, an endless parade of kids carefully carrying their sweaters on hangers, dragging equipment bags that are both bigger and heavier than they are.
The event, run by USA Hockey’s Atlantic Affiliate, gave youngsters a chance to kick-start their regular seasons that will begin soon.
Nick Regas is the hockey director at the Ice Vault and the New Jersey Bandits organization. He helped organize the 1,000 or so players in the jamboree.
“One team comes in, another goes out,” Regas said. “It starts at 7 a.m. and goes to 7 p.m. But it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great atmosphere. Look at the kids’ smiles.”
All games are played on the half-ice standard, with hard-board dividers to segment the rink. There are 25-minute periods, played with running time. No score is kept. Face-offs only happen at the start of the game. If a penalty occurs, that player is removed from the game and replaced for the remainder of his shift.
These modifications encourage kids to play, learn and efficiently develop skills instead of being a spectator for much of the game. There are no benchwarmers in the ADM.
“It’s more skill-oriented,” Regas said. “It’s really improved the pace. The skill development, skating, passing, has gone through the roof. The kids really enjoy it.”
This was the third year for the jamboree, and this year’s event had the biggest participation yet.
“They’re able to compete in a fun environment,” Regas said. “If they play now and we keep them intrigued, then they’re hooked for life. It’s huge to get them interested now.”
Parents seem to agree. Deborah Nixon’s 8-year-old son William plays for the New Jersey Bandits. She says he loves hockey and he loves the ADM jamboree format because it means he gets to play more.
“When he was on a team with 20 kids, he’d get on the ice twice in an hour,” Nixon said. “This way, the excitement level increases. He gets up in the morning and says, ‘Yes! I have hockey today.’”
And as for the atmosphere of the jamboree?
“It’s electric,” Nixon said. “It makes the kids feel like they’re important. This is their NHL. Of all the teams and kids here, maybe one might make the NHL. Right now, in their heads, they are [Henrik] Lundqvist or [Ryan] McDonagh.”
Nixon also enjoys the family aspect to the tourney.
“William wants to be here all day, being with the other kids, it becomes a family thing.”
Giancarlo’s father, Todd Sears, loves hockey and the ADM approach. Giancarlo just started skating in February but he’s already hooked.
“He came off the ice and said that he never wanted to leave,” said Sears. “It’s been a positive for him, as he develops respect for other kids and his coaches. He follows direction. He listens. I can absolutely see the change in him.”
“[John] comes from a family of hockey players,” Porcaro said. “But this teaches him a lot about teamwork and sportsmanship. It’s pretty amazing to have something like this for him.”
Scott Buzney coaches the New Jersey Stars from Princeton, N.J. He believes that the tournament serves many purposes.
“It gives the kids something to look forward to,” Buzney said. “It’s been motivation in practice for the last few weeks. I think this format is great for their age. They can see the ice, touch the puck and move the puck.
“They think it’s the greatest thing on earth. It’s the best motivational tool I’ve ever come across.”
Tony D’Anna is a coach with the Montclair Hockey Club who also applauds the ADM approach and the jamboree.
“It’s great,” D’Anna said. “You see all the smiles on the kids. They really enjoy it. It took a little while to get used to, but now I’d much rather play the smaller ice with the smaller nets. My boys played full-rink in their day. I wish they had this. USA Hockey has done a great job educating everyone about the ADM.”
So how much do the kids enjoy it?
“When I played my first game, I was extra excited,” John said. “It was better than Santa Claus.”
It doesn’t get much better than that.
NOTES: The Atlantic Affiliate hosts its annual 8U ADM jamboree in two locations, the Ice Works in Aston, Pennsylvania, and the Ice Vault in Wayne, New Jersey. This year they welcomed involvement from the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.
In Aston, 67 8U and 6U teams participated in the event, with each team playing four games over the weekend. Flyers alumnus Brad Marsh greeted them, along with packages of swag direct from Broad Street.
In Wayne, the Devils provided giveaways and interactive off-ice activities. Three-time Stanley Cup champion Ken Daneyko was also there to greet players and families, along with N.J. Devil, the mascot, who was a huge hit with the kids. The New Jersey half of the jamboree featured 100 teams playing four mini-games in a single day in a full-blown festival atmosphere with food, music and fun.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.