Over this past weekend, three unique player development events were held throughout the state of Minnesota. Each of the events featured a creative approach to skill development at a specific age level, showcasing the continued progression of the philosophy of American Development Model in Minnesota.
District 12 hosted its first ever Mite Festival in at Miners Memorial Building in Virginia, MN. The Buffalo Youth Hockey Association (“Buffalo”) organized and ran the first sanctioned Squirt Cross-Ice Tournament in Minnesota, and Minnesota Hockey held a Four Corners Festival in St. Paul, in which four Peewee teams from the four corners of the state participated in a series of games and practices in various formats.
While all three of the events had varying styles and age levels, all of them provided an environment that placed a priority on long term development over immediate, team-centered results.
“The biggest key is to get coaches away from the team concept and more into the individual athlete concept,” said USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Roger Grillo, who led practices for and mentored coaches at the events in Virginia and St. Paul.
A Mite-y Good Time
When you think of hockey on Minnesota’s Iron Range, words like tradition, heritage and pride come to mind quickly. It’s an area where hockey has been king for a long time, and there’s no shortage of parents and coaches who played the game at a high level.
That may lead some to think the Iron Range would be “old school” when it comes to player development, but if you ask District 12 Director Steve Oleheiser, many of the associations have been utilizing ADM concepts for decades and are more forward thinking than you would anticipate.
The District 12 Mite Festival this past weekend is a perfect example. While Oleheiser spearheaded the event in coordination with Minnesota Hockey and USA Hockey, he received immediate buy-in from everyone in the district. All eight associations sent teams to participate, resulting in over 200 Mites hitting the ice over five sessions.
During each session, teams from two associations took part in a 45-minute station-based practice, led by Grillo and USA Hockey Coaching Education Program Director, Mark Tabrum. Then, the teams played cross-ice games for another 45-minutes.
District 12 also hosted a Level 1 CEP clinic simultaneously so the coaches had the opportunity to hear from Tabrum and Grillo, as well as witness the Mite Festival first hand.
The Squirt Stampede
It’s not uncommon to hear parents entering their first year of Squirts say how glad they are and/or their kids are to finally be playing “real” hockey. The days of cross-ice and half-ice hockey are behind them, and it’s time for some full-ice, five-on-five hockey!
But does that really mean they should only play five-on-five the rest of their youth hockey career?
If you ask youth hockey development experts, the answer is a resounding no because those small-ice formats still have numerous benefits at the older age levels.
Knowing that, Buffalo took the concept of small area games a step further and hosted Minnesota Hockey’s first sanctioned Squirt 3x3 half-ice tournament this past weekend.
During the Swagger Stampede Tournament, each participating team split into two teams and participated in two separate half-ice games at the same time. At the end of their 45-minute game (two 20-minute halves), the scores from each side were combined for the final result of the matchup. Teams participated in three games of pool play before being seeded into final matchups on Sunday.
The unique format for a tournament significantly increased puck touches and goal scoring as the 16 teams in the tournament combined to score over 1,200 goals during pool play (which is more than 25 goals per game).
Four Corners Festival
Minnesota Hockey also held a unique event this past weekend, hosting Peewee A teams from Luverne, Warroad, Hibbing and Delano for a weekend of games and development in its inaugural Four Corners Festival at TRIA Rink in St. Paul. While the event was initially intended to assist teams in the corners of Minnesota in finding high quality games, the addition of multiple development components made it into much more than that.
On Friday night, each team participated in a two-team shared practice, led by Grillo. Coaches from each of the teams ran the drills while Grillo shared feedback and insight on the concepts of each drill and how coaches can utilize rules within the drills to hold players accountable and force them to develop good habits.
“If the coaches don’t buy in and the coaches don’t take some of this stuff and go with it, then my impact is one day, and it’s not going to have an impact,” said Grillo. “But if they grasp even a small percentage of this stuff and implement it and encourage it and do it, then the impact lasts forever.”
Then, Saturday morning, the teams took part in a dry land session and dynamic warm up before playing a game at TRIA Rink. The action continued Saturday afternoon with a round robin three on three half-ice contest using the hard ice dividers. The teams finished with another game at TRIA Rink on Sunday, capping a full weekend of great hockey.