Minnesota Hockey is a leader in providing the best hockey experience for the players, coaches and parents and continuously striving to improve that experience. There are a great number of programming changes for the 13-14 season aimed at doing just that.
To ensure everyone hits the ice at full speed this season, Minnesota Hockey President, Dave Margenau, sat down with us to recap the improvements and preview the impact they will have on the 2013-14 season.
Over the last couple of years, there has been quite a bit of discussion about participation numbers in hockey. What initiatives are being put in place this year to help grow the game?
We’re excited with the Wild season kicking off and the upcoming Olympics in Sochi. It should bring a lot of interest to the sport of hockey. We have a number of growth initiatives going forward that will capitalize on that interest and help build our community hockey base, where it all begins. Almost all of our 160 associations are in some form or another providing try hockey for free events where we invite families that haven’t experienced the game of ice hockey and give them the opportunity to experience it and join in the fun. On November 2nd, we have more than 70 local hockey associations that are putting on Try Hockey For Free Day in connection with the USA Hockey Try Hockey For Free event.
Additionally, the Gear Up Minnesota! program is providing starter equipment to associations. Last season, we gave out 360 sets to over 30 associations to help suit players up so they can enjoy the game. Since the program began, more than 1400 sets of gear have been provided to our communities to help them grow the game.
Are there any special events planned to make the most out of the interest generated by the Olympics?
As a part of the Olympic broadcasting, NBC has agreed to have a scrolling section at the bottom of the screen during the games where interested families or players can contact a local association. On March 1st, immediately after the Olympics, we are going to be hosting a number of Try Hockey For Free events for those players followed by a short three or four week introduction to hockey programs so we get them into the game and get them ready for the 14-15 season.
Once players become members of a local association, what kind of efforts are being made to ensure they continue playing?
Our local associations are continuing with the implementation of age appropriate training, station based – high activity practices and age appropriate ice surfaces. We are for the first time sanctioning cross ice tournaments for the Mite age players, seven to eight year-olds, second and third graders. The idea is to use the cross ice surfaces to allow them to have the experience and fun of participating in a tournament. It’s an exciting opportunity and already, there are a number of associations that have shown interest and are organizing these sanctioned cross ice tournaments.
The foam bumper dividers don’t provide a realistic rink for cross-ice games. Is Minnesota Hockey doing something to assist more rinks in getting the new hard ice dividers?
Minnesota Hockey, has partnered with Rink Systems, to offer hard ice dividers at a reduced cost to hockey associations. Hard ice dividers are just like solid boards. They replace the foam dividers that mites have used in the past. It sets up for more of a real game situation by allowing the players to use those boards as they would the boards that go around the entire rink. We’re looking forward to getting these into the communities, and we encourage associations to make use of the offering to host cross ice tournaments.
In addition to using the hard ice dividers for cross ice tournaments, some associations will want to run cross-ice developmental leagues. The smaller surface allows players to challenge themselves and learn to operate in small areas of spaces and build their skills. It’s not only for the mites but up including bantams and high school players can experience the cross ice game situations.
Now, you mentioned some of the older age groups. What other resources are available to assist associations in developing those kids?
We’re in the process of introducing a list of Minnesota Development Model Best Practices. The Best Practices are recommendations of organizational structure as well as age appropriate scheduling and programming for associations to consider. In this document of best practices, we discuss administrative topics such as how an association might organize themselves and what kind of training would be suggested for the coaches beyond the CEP training. For the player classification levels, the recommended number of on-ice, off-ice sessions and games are listed. It’s our desire to introduce these so that associations can look to what the best practices are for providing the optimal development opportunities to players.
Fast forwarding a little bit to the most exciting time of year, what is the status of the A/AA State Tournament Pilot Program?
Last season, it was overwhelmingly well received and met its objective of providing more opportunities for players to advance into postseason play. Because of it, 64 teams that wouldn’t have advanced in the past got the experience of participating in Region Tournaments, and 16 had the excitement of playing in a State Tournament so the A/AA pilot was a great success. We will be continuing it this season.
There’s one change that came out of the feedback we received on the pilot program. There will be a new format for AA Region Tournaments in the South, East and West Regions. The teams that are a part of those Regions will be seeded by a panel of coaches. The North Region which is Districts 11, 12, 15 and 16 will go with the more traditional way of seeding the teams in the Region Tournaments. We’re looking forward to that. I think it will provide more balance in the regions so look for some exciting play come March!
Player safety continues to be on the minds of all. What can parents, coaches and players expect this season in terms of changes on- and off-the-ice?
We’re in our first full year of implementation of the SafeSport program. The SafeSport program looks to provide the safest environment for our players both on- and off-the-ice. Off the ice includes such things as locker room monitoring, training for managers, coaches and parents, as well as to how to identify and what to do when bad behavior from adults is observed. Each association has a SafeSport coordinator whose job is to lead the efforts in their association. As far as training goes, there’s about an hour and a half SafeSport training that any member of USA Hockey can take at no cost. It’s well done and is definitely worth the time to complete the training.
For on-ice safety, we get into some of the playing rules changes that are being implemented this season. There’s an increased emphasis on eliminating the potentially dangerous infractions of boarding, head contact and charging. Effective this season, the initial level of penalty will be a minor, as it has been in the past, but the player will also receive a ten-minute misconduct. The officials, as they have in the past, have the option of making the penalty for these three infractions a major and a game misconduct.
If there was one thing our members should keep in mind this season, what would it be?
I think the most important thing is that players are having fun, experiencing growth in their skills and to give it their best effort. Whether a player aspires and has the skill to play at the highest level or they want to play at a recreational level, it’s all about having fun. It’s important that we all continue to remember just that.
Before we go, do you have any final comments?
We don’t give enough credit to our thousands of volunteers who make it all possible for our players the experience our great game. A big thank you to all of our volunteers, coaches, administrators, officials and parents! All of you make the Minnesota way of playing hockey the envy of the United States.