When opponents throughout Michigan have played teams from the Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association over the past two seasons, they’ve commonly mentioned the improvement among the KOHA’s older, top-end players.
Ken Martel, technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, notices something else when he visits Kalamazoo.
“I’m really impressed with their mite groups,” Martel said.
“When you get on the ice with some of their groups and it’s all 40 players, you have to say to yourself, ‘What’s in the water here?’” Martel added. “Basically, they’re doing good things.”
The top-to-bottom improvement can be traced to the ADM. Prior to the 2013-14 season, the KOHA was named one of USA Hockey’s 17 Model Associations. The Model Associations have committed to full implementation of the ADM for 8-and-under, 10-and-under and 12-and-under age groups. In turn, USA Hockey provides support in implementing the ADM, including in-person coaches training, on-ice instruction and parent education from USA Hockey staff.
“They’ve really taken the ADM and run with it,” Martel said.
Brian Tulik, the KOHA’s director of coaching and player development, said a self-assessment led KOHA organizers to the conclusion that they could do better in developing their large group of players.
“We’re one of the largest organizations in the state, if not the country, and we didn’t feel like we were producing enough top-end talent, especially given the size of our association,” Tulik said of the KOHA, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “Not that, for us, it’s all about wins and losses. But just by sheer numbers, and that we have such strong feeder programs, we thought that our travel teams would be stronger and that we would have more success on a regional and state level. We really weren’t.
“As an overall, we just weren’t seeing it.”
The KOHA is now seeing across-the-board improvement: The youngest players are picking up the game more quickly, while the top-tier players are developing into even better players.
“Last year, we saw immediate results,” Tulik said. “One of our teams won a league championship and another of our teams won a state championship at the travel level.
“We’re very excited about the future of these kids and the future of our program.”
With nearly 800 players and more than 100 volunteer coaches to coordinate across six sheets of ice at three facilities, the KOHA needed a major commitment to instill the ADM throughout the program.
“The first thing we had to do is go out and hire a skills team,” Tulik said, referring to a group that includes an ADM director, power-skating coach, stickhandling coach and goalie coach. “The biggest problem we had was the education of the small-area games and the station-based practices, mostly at our travel level.
“At the travel level, a lot of people think they need to be focused on team scenarios and systems and schematics and all that kind of stuff, and sometimes put the individual skill development on the back burner.”
The skills team works with all the coaches and the players across every age and competition level on a weekly basis. In addition to helping the players, the skills team also works to educate both the coaches within the system and parents who place their children with the KOHA. Now, skill development at practice does not slow down when players begin ascending the ranks.
“This is about long-term athletic development,” Tulik said. “It’s not about short-term goals.
“We may not see those rewards right away, but in due time, we truly feel that the players in our program are going to see even greater success. We saw that in Year One already.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.