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SAGs spark competition in Columbus

03/06/2017, 2:00pm MST
By Jayson Hron

With playoffs and tournaments on the horizon, former ECHL general manager Ed Gingher enlisted USA Hockey’s Scott Paluch to help ignite his Ohio AAA Blue Jackets for the stretch drive. Paluch, an American Development Model regional manager, led Gingher’s teams through two nights of spirited small-area games, injecting hockey’s dog days with a boost of energy and competitiveness.

“It was awesome,” said Gingher, the AAA Blue Jackets hockey director and 18U head coach. “Scott worked with all of our boys teams, from 10U through 18U, doing 60 minutes each night of small-area games. The timing was good to break up the season a little bit, and they were fun nights of competition for our players and coaches. The parents enjoyed it, too.”

Paluch is no stranger to the Blue Jackets, who were among the teams that worked with him to begin their season as part of the Washington Little Caps’ Labor Day Development Camp at Kettler Iceplex. The event attracted several top teams for a weekend of ADM coaching, practices and mini-games, all aimed at inspiring players and opening the season with a skill-development emphasis.

Dave Caruso’s 14U Blue Jackets were among the participants. The former American Hockey League and Ohio State University goaltender serves in several roles, coaching the 14U Blue Jackets, guiding the organization’s goaltenders and also working as the goaltending development coordinator for USA Hockey’s Mid-American Affiliate. His team worked with ADM coaches during NARCE in May 2016, setting the stage to reconvene at the Labor Day Development Camp.

“It was a great way to start the season, working with other top-level teams and coaches in practices, small-area games and mini-games,” said Caruso. “We had fun and improved a lot more than we would have by just playing a weekend full of games. We really feel it’s beneficial for our players to learn that way.”

Learning and player development is the Blue Jackets’ hallmark; an emphasis that permeates all levels of the program.

“From an organizational perspective, all of our coaches are on the same page about development being the main focus,” said Gingher, whose 18U team (43-11-2 heading into the weekend) ranks among the nation’s best.

“We’re not a win-at-all-costs program. We’re not a program that overwhelms kids with systems. They’ve got to play, read, react and learn. What we’ve found is that our emphasis on skill development has led to success for our program, and it’s raised the bar of what we expect.”

With Paluch in town for the Blue Jackets’ recent small-area practices, the competition bar was indeed high. Players battled through age-appropriate, fast-paced and fierce puck-possession, attacking and defensive situations, priming them for upcoming playoff encounters. Even the goalies were caught up in the intensity, which made it a terrific development experience for all.

“Number one, small-area games develop a compete level and a competitive mindset for skaters and for goalies,” said Caruso. “Number two, they develop hockey sense. And those are two big things that goalies need if they want to advance to the next level. Those two things, along with technical ability and overall athleticism.”

Ultimately, after two days of small-area competition, the players were smiling, eager and prepared for whatever challenge comes next, which was exactly Gingher’s aim.

“The more we’ve done small-area games, the more we work that compete factor, it shows in our player development and leads to more success on the ice,” he said. “For us, the ADM is definitely a factor. It’s worked well for us.”

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