Ben Roth played Division I hockey at Alaska-Fairbanks and has extensive hockey experience at other levels, but one of his biggest “aha!” moments in the sport came while coaching a group of 6U and 8U girls in Fairbanks youth hockey several years back.
Using some of the core principles of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, players experienced exponential growth in a special year.
“We got to work with one group of kids and it was astonishing how far those kids came in a single season,” Roth said.
That became one of many factors that led Hockey Club Fairbanks down a disciplined but rewarding path that ultimately led them to be named one of just 25 USA Hockey Model Associations in the country.
To earn that model designation, associations need to have age division coordinators, commit to ADM-specific practice ratios, document practice plans as well as a host of other things.
USA Hockey provides support, but much of the onus is on the associations. For Fairbanks, it was a matter of getting organized before even getting started.
“My first trip up to Alaska and Fairbanks, they asked to meet with me – and they had four different associations up there. Being in a small town with limited population, the question is why do we need four?” recalled Kenny Rausch, USA Hockey’s Director of Youth Hockey. “Way back when, someone wasn’t happy with the existing association and started their own, and so on. So you had four associations. It was time for them to come back together and create one association. That’s how Hockey Club Fairbanks was born.”
Roth, the association president, was determined to earn model program status.
Achieving that status would mean a $10,000 funding boost from the state of Alaska, but more importantly it would set the program down a course that Roth believed in.
“It’s the result of consistent training and making a plan that exists for age-appropriate play and the development of players,” he said. “It’s about more coaches for groups. It all made sense to me.”
That said, he also knew it wouldn’t be easy. The application is long and the process took several years to complete. As Hockey Club Fairbanks implemented longstanding changes, there were questions along the way about whether it was the right thing to do.
This year, for instance, Fairbanks is committed to an in-house 10U program where all the players practice together and the games are half-ice.
“In Fairbanks we’re celebrating our 50-year anniversary of youth hockey. We had 45 years of doing it a certain way and then suddenly we were trying to change the structure of practice,” Roth said. “It was not only a challenge getting through hurdles but working with the community."
As with most things in life, the hard work has been worth it. Fairbanks has a problem with ice time – the good kind.
“We can’t find enough of it for the 10U and 12U kids that are still playing. We have a super solid program from 12U down,” Roth said. “For 12U, it’s practice as usual and it looks a lot different than it did 6-7 years ago.”
As a community that was at least curious to see how a new way of doing things would work out, Fairbanks has latched onto the momentum.
“Fairbanks has a long tradition of volunteer support for the game and there’s been a surge in volunteers,” Roth said. “You get your best coaches together and everybody gets to work and feed off each other. It’s been super awesome to see friendships and camaraderie with families and kids.”
It’s also helped Hockey Club Fairbanks forge a stronger relationship with USA Hockey leadership.
“Kenny does a fabulous job sharing his support,” Roth said. “He makes an effort to come to Alaska and we have had a line to him – which is great. It’s been a huge benefit to us.”
If Fairbanks needed any more evidence that it was on the right track? Those 6U and 8U girls that helped Roth see the future have become a force in the present.
“That group of girls won state and regionals and was headed to nationals for 14U before COVID hit,” Roth said. “That was the icing on the cake for those of us who have been around this from the start.”
Tag(s): ADM Features