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Why Did So Many Pro Hockey Players Play Lacrosse?

It was the perfect time to ask Walter Gretzky a question I’d always wondered about. 

How important was lacrosse when it came to his son’s journey to become the NHL’s all-time leading scorer and the player most consider the greatest to ever lace up a pair of skates?

It was back in the early 2000s and the country’s most cherished hockey parent, the man who made the backyard rink mainstream, was in Calgary at the Saddledome to perform the ceremonial ball drop prior to a National Lacrosse League tilt for the hometown Roughnecks.

I was there to cover the game for the Calgary Sun and jumped at the chance to have a pre-game chat with the Great One’s dad.   

Down in the bowels of the ’Dome, we sat down on a pair of metal folding chairs and I posed the question.

“It sure helped Wayne,” he answered. “Because in lacrosse, you learn how to fake and he used those same fakes, or moves, in hockey. It sure helped him, no doubt about that.

“Knowing the different moves, dropping his shoulder and such like you have to do in lacrosse …, really helped him.”

Walter coached his son in lacrosse, as he famously did in hockey.

He fell in love with the sport, he said, just like Wayne. 

“It’s one of the oldest sports in the Canada but it’s not one of the biggest sports (in popularity),” said Walter, who passed away in March of 2021. “But it sure is a great sport, a lot of fun to watch.”

There’s no doubt the sport left an indelible impression on the Great One, who recently joined an ownership group consisting of his future son-in-law and pro golfer Dustin Johnson, Canadian basketball legend Steve Nash, and billionaire Joe Tsai to bring a National Lacrosse League franchise to Las Vegas.

Over the years, lacrosse and hockey have gone together like doughnuts and a double-double in certain regions of Canada.

Plenty of notable national sports stars took part in both games.

Way back in the day, it was fellas such as Newsy Lalonde, Jack Bionda and Lionel Conacher (Google these gents if you’re too young).

Then came Gretzky, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates and Mike Gartner.

These days, it’s Steve Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Sean Monahan and John Tavares (whose namesake uncle is the all-time leader scorer in NLL history ), to name but a few.

“For me, it was always hockey in the winter, lacrosse in the summer,” said Monahan, who grew up playing lacrosse in Brampton. “The two really work together really well.

“In lacrosse you learn to protect yourself from getting hit, rolling off checks, making moves and stuff like that. Obviously you’re catching the ball and passing, so hand-eye co-ordination goes a long way.

“I think hockey and lacrosse are two sports that complement each other well.”

The similarities between the sports are front and centre: Both are played five-on-five with two goalies in nets at each end, the game taking part on a hockey arena floor or outdoor box, with all the players carrying sticks and wearing helmets.

However, some will say that box lacrosse actually has more in common with basketball than hockey. 

To a certain extent, that’s true. First off, you’re running in shoes and not skating, and offensive sets consist of picks and screens in a structure with set plays, all designed to try and produce odd-man situations on offence.  The two-man game, as it’s called, is all about picks to create 2-on-1s. On the other side of the ball, switches and slides by defensive players are an orchestrated dance meant to try and stymy the offensive attack.

At the end of the day, it’s both the similarities and differences that make it a perfect summer sport for hockey players.

There is a great focus these days on kids playing multiple sports for myriad reasons, including but not limited to: Staving off the boredom that can come with early specialization, avoiding repetitive-stress injuries by having the body do different activities, having kids face a new challenge and broaden their horizons, and becoming a better overall athlete to help them excel in their primary sport, which is often hockey here in this country.

Lacrosse checks off all the boxes.

“It’s such a great sport,” said Monahan, who currently plays for the Calgary Flames. “I played it growing up and loved it. It’s my favourite sport to watch.

“You don’t realize how much goes into the game to play it. It’s aggressive and skilled – it’s a real treat to watch.”  

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Knox Keeps Pushing To Improve Girls Hockey

Who is Liz Knox? If we were playing Jeopardy that would be the answer to the question: A role model and a source of inspiration. A person who is celebrated for their skills and actions. A person who has a profound influence on others.

Knox owns this category. A true inspiration to the game of hockey, on and off the ice. Since hanging up the pads following a successful career as a pro goaltender, she continues to leave her fingerprints all over the hockey scene. To say she has done it all is an understatement.

Knox started her journey playing with the Markham-Stouffville Hockey Association. She played house league all the way through junior with a core group of 6 to 8 girls and a handful of coaches. 

She played two years of Pee Wee with the boys, attributing much of her success with the mental side of the game. Playing on a boy’s team, chirps from the other team or parents were the norm. “Shoot from anywhere, they have a girl in net” is one of the many examples. 

But despite the adversity, Know was grateful to spend her development years playing with the boys.

“It was a good opportunity to face harder shots and play the game faster,” she said.

With the growing popularity of girls hockey in North America there are now numerous quality programs available today that Knox didn’t have when she was growing up. 

“Girls hockey has come a long way. Girls train so much harder, they’re stronger, they put more emphasis on skills, shooting, and skating,” Knox said. “There are more coaching and skill development opportunities.”

Knox continued to play hockey throughout high school. She would go on to dominate the University scene winning four OUA Championships and voted U SPORTS Women’s Hockey Player of the year in 2010. 

She is undoubtedly one of the most decorated players in Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s ice hockey history, which was recognized when she was inducted into WLU’s Golden Hawk Hall of Fame in 2016.

In 2011, Knox won gold for Team Canada at the Winter Universiade and at the IIHF 12 Nations Tournament. 

Currently a probationary firefighter for the Town of Oakville, Knox played pro in the CWHL with the Brampton/Markham Thunder and became a Clarkson Cup Champion in 2018 and even played a season Down Under with the Melbourne Ice women’s hockey club of the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL). 

Liz Knox Hockey Journey 2

One of Knox’s favourite experiences was serving as Captain for Team Gold in the 2019 CWHL All-Star game at Scotiabank Arena, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

“I got a taste of what it’s like to be a truly professional hockey player,” Knox said. “The teams consisted of professional players, Olympians, and World Champions. There was no shortage of talent.”

The experience of being treated like an NHLer is the atmosphere Knox and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) are working hard to duplicate by focussing on building a sustainable women’s pro hockey league.

One of the league’s goals is to provide the next generation of girl hockey players something to aspire toward.

“We’re in a really good position where we have a ton of talent and a league that’s operating and doing well. The potential is there to create a truly professional future for women’s hockey,” said Knox, who served as a PWHPA founding member prior to announcing her resignation to ensure Sarah Nurse — one of a handful of black players in the PWHPA — could have a seat on the board. 

Knox remains an advisor to the PWHPA and an advocate for the next generation of girls to have a future and career in professional hockey. Her recommendation to young girls and parents is to get educated about the women’s hockey landscape and learn about existing opportunities.

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Fuelling Tips for Hockey Camps

Some of my favorite childhood summer memories took place at camp. Learning new skills, making new friends from around the country, and all day dedicated to the gym and training.  

Today, sports camps often include professional athletes, state of the art equipment, and video feedback. Unfortunately, the one area they typically haven’t advanced is nutrition for youth and teen athletes.

Although there are a few that incorporate nutrition education into their schedules, many are still providing pizza, chips, and ineffective sports drinks as “fuel.” 

Yet, while we know nutrient-poor meals and snacks won’t provide adequate energy for the afternoon sessions- or recovery for tomorrow — knowing what to pack for a long, continual day of training can be challenging.

Since digesting a full meal takes about four hours, an assortment of fueling “mini meals” will help maintain their energy and focus throughout the day … and their bodies recover for the next day.

Investing in a good cooler bag, thermos, and/or portable blender provides even more fuelling opportunities. Consider cutting fruit/sandwiches in halves or quarters for quick grab n’ go between sessions to minimize waste.

Plan for 1-2 snacks for every scheduled break as well as a variety of colors and textures to accommodate various hunger patterns. An “emergency” packaged snack (Himalayan salted popcorn, Kind or Zbar) in their bag is helpful for days when their appetite changes based on various training intensity.

Consider these convenient fuelling options for all-day camp:

  • Mini or half bagel with cream cheese
  • Banana, pineapple, berries
  • Non-dairy, non-refrigerated beverage (ex. Ripple)
  • Small sports drink (6-8 oz) – look for one without artificial colors or synthetic sugars (acesulfame potassium, sucralose… stevia can also cause stomach distress) like Body Armor
  • Chickpea or regular pasta salad with diced veggies
  • Nut butter sandwich with banana, jelly, or a drizzle of honey
  • Carrots, celery, cucumber, and or sliced red/yellow/orange bell peppers
  • Chicken or turkey wrap with lettuce and sliced avocado
  • Tortilla chips with salsa
  • Chicken and rice/farro 
  • Breakfast “cookie”
  • Fruit & spinach smoothie (portable blender or reusable water bottle with a straw) 
  • Air popped popcorn
  • Z-bar or Kate’s bar 
  • Salad with quinoa, diced veggies, and chicken
  • Pancakes or waffle with small Greek yogurt to dip
  • Pretzels and hummus

Since there’s typically only 1-2 hours between training sessions or activities, wait until the end of the day for slower digesting dairy and red meats.  

Wondering about your athlete’s individual nutritional needs? Looking for the breakfast “cookie” recipe? Reach out to me on RockPerformance.net.

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Goalie Guild: 8 Goalie Dad Mistakes

Being a hockey goaltender is probably the second hardest job in sports.

The first? Being a parent of a goalie.

It is not just the stress of watching your child perform as the last line of defense, its everything else that goes along with it.

What equipment do I buy? How much training is enough? How much is too much? How do I talk to them after a bad game? How much should I be involved with the coaching staff?

With so much to learn — especially if your family is new to the position — it is easy to make mistakes. Here are some that we have made in the past and why we realized that we may have been doing more harm than good …

Standing behind your kid when he is playing

Imagine working on a big project at your job. The company’s success rests on your shoulders and you can feel the pressure from your co-workers. Your boss can’t help you but they decide that standing directly behind you while you work is the best recipe for success. Does their presence help you do your job? Probably not. The same goes for goalie dads who stand directly behind their kid during games. Not only does the player feel even more pressure with you standing there, but you also can become a distraction as your goalie looks at you after every goal and every save instead of focussing on the next shot. They play the loneliest position on the ice and you can’t help no matter where you stand. Save the coaching until after the game and give your goalie some space.

Comparing your kid to their goalie partner

While inevitable — it will be done by you, the coaches, other parents and players — nothing good ever comes from comparing your child to their goalie partner. It is also inevitable that you will see your goalie through a different lens than everyone else. Almost every parent believes their player is better than they are in reality. It comes with the territory. But don’t let comparing the two goalies be your focus. Don’t use shot counts or goals against as a measuring stick. Those are meaningless stats as every shot, every goal and every game are different. Comparisons can lead to bitterness between goalie parents — the only other set of parents that understand what you are going through — and between the goalies themselves, especially if you vocalize your opinion on the matter. Stay positive with both goalies. Go out of your way to compliment or offer encouragement to other goalie parents on their kid’s performance. Always offer encouragement to BOTH goalies!

Not helping build a pre-game routine

Most goalies are creatures of habit. Routines can provide a calmness before a game and allow your goalie to relax and focus. They can start as early as breakfast and last right until the puck drops. So what can you do to help? First off, you know what makes your goalie tick better than anyone. Talk to your goalie and together start formulating a plan on what the goalie needs to be successful. Some goalies need to hear a specific music playlist on the way to the rink to signal its time to focus, some like to be alone before the game, some have superstitions that can’t be broken, some like to throw a ball against the wall. Most of this is psychological and often these routines build organically — “I did this before the last game and got a shutout so I am going to do it again” — but your job is to be supportive no matter how strange these routines may be. Don’t judge. Don’t be dismissive. Embrace it and you will find it actually strengths your relationship with your goalie as they see you doing everything you can to help them be successful.

Putting pads on backwards

It’s early. You were up late and have taken only a few sips of coffee in the minutes between waking your child up and getting to the rink for an early ice time. You go through the routine of getting your young goalie ready, handing them one piece of equipment at a time as you chat with the parent beside you. Your child plunks down into their pads, waiting for you to do the buckles and straps like you have done dozens of times before. Finally your goalie is ready to go and you head to the stands. Suddenly you get poked as the kids skate their warmup laps. There are no words spoken, just a smile and a finger pointed directly at your kid. Your shoulders slump as you quickly see the problem — the pads are on the wrong legs. You begin the walk of shame back to the dressing room as several other people have made note of the pads. After finally reaching your goalie, you both work feverishly to make the switch. All finished, you send them back out on the ice as you haul your embarassment back to the bleachers.

Overreacting to a bad goal

Just because you don’t stand directly behind you goalie doesn’t mean that they can’t see you. It is guaranteed that every young goalie knows EXACTLY where their parents are in the rink. That means they can see every reaction you have to a goal against and a negative response can mean a loss of confidence for your kid. Most goalie parents can sense if their goalie is going to have a bad game just by watching warmup or seeing the first goal go in. Often this gives you time to prepare for a long day. Other times a bad goal comes out of nowhere or your kid fails to make a save at a crucial situation and you can’t help but to throw your arms up or storm out of the rink. Just remember that everyone is watching you — including your goalie — as you draw attention to the mistake and make yourself look foolish in the process. 

Not asking for goalie training

You are your goalie’s advocate when it comes to practise and training. Goalies need much different instruction obviously and often their needs are ignored. There is only so much improvement that can be made making save after save in repetitive practise drills, especially if no corrections are being offered. Talk to your team’s coaching staff about taking at least 10 minutes of practice to work on goalie-specific drills, with goalie skating as a priority. Hopefully there is someone on the coaching staff or parent group who has experience as a goalie and can supervise these drills. Coaches who understand the importance of the position to the success of the team, also use money from the team budget to send their goalies to special instructors outside of the team ice time. Many minor hockey organizations also offer goalie-specific training sessions. If that isn’t happening, find out why. Work with other goalie parents to put pressure on teams and organizations to prioritize goalie training. While many kids have goalie coaches outside of the team environment, that doesn’t mean you should foot the entire bill for your goalie’s development as well as paying team fees.

Blaming Other Players

Be careful with the words you use after a tough game when talking to other parents as well as your goalie. Blaming other kid’s mistakes for goals scored on your child will only build animosity between parents as news travels fast in hockey circles. Being a goalie parent is tough enough as it is without becoming an outcast in the parent group. It is even more important not to point out mistakes of other players to your goalie. Odds are your words will make it back into the dressing room and eventually the player in question. Pointing fingers can destroy a team and further deflate the confidence of the player who made the error. They know they made a mistake and it has probably been reviewed with a coach. No need to pile on. This approach can also build negative traits in your goalie, who may now look to blame someone else on every single goal. Your goalie needs to take ownership of each goal scored on them. It is their job to stop every shot, regardless if it comes off of a teammate’s gaffe. 

Making it a Job

Look, being a goalie is hard. There is a ton of pressure. It is lonely. Team practises are exhausting and boring. It is no wonder very few goalies want to play net on the pond or on the street. Acting like a drill sergeant who demands success at all costs is not going to make you kid want to be a goalie for very long. Playing the position has to be fun. Find a goalie trainer that you kid enjoys working with even if these means trying several different ones.

Ask if your child want to do extra sessions, don’t just sign them up. Keep the mood light on game days. Stay positive after bad games by focussing on the good saves rather than the bad goals. Create your own off-ice “games” to help your goalie improve or simply play catch to help their glove hand. Making equipment buying a fun process without complaining about the price. The goal shouldn’t be to play in the NHL but rather to play hockey for life. Remember nobody wants to work forever.

Dave Ashton is the Editor in Chief of Elite Level Hockey. He is a former goalie who has watched his oldest son play the position for the past 10 years.

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Golden Knights’ Youth Hockey is for Everyone

Part 3 in our series on minor hockey in Las Vegas

There was instant karma between the Vegas Golden Knights and their fanbase from the moment they launched their inaugural NHL campaign during the 2017-18 season.

The Golden Knights are doing their utmost to create that passion for the game at the grassroots level. When it came to youth hockey, the Vegas franchise also hit the ground running, setting out to be a success story in that environment as well.

It all starts with the Vegas Golden Knights Skating Academy, which is basically an all-comers tutorial on the basics of working the blades on ice. Whether they’re interested in hockey or figure skating, all are welcome to come and learn. There’s also no age restrictions. Adults are invited to join their kids in learning the fundamentals of skating.

The next step for the younger graduates of the skating academy interested in pursuing hockey is the learn to play program. An NHL-sponsored program, learn to play is for kids ages 5-9 to begin to develop the skills required to play hockey — stickhandling, passing and shooting.

“Having the learn to skate going into the NHL learn to play and then into the little mite program is substantial,” said former NHL goalie Darren Eliot, who serves as Vice President of Hockey Programming and Facility Operations for the Golden Knights. All participants in the learn to play program must first earn their learn to skate certificate.

Moving on, the Lil’ Knights cross-ice program introduces these kids to actual hockey competition and helps them to understand basic hockey strategies and concepts. It’s the next step toward preparation for house-league competition. Participation in the programs ranges between 240-300 kids.

“And we have good sponsorship outside of that,” Eliot said. The D Las Vegas Hotel Casino has sponsored the entire Lil’ Knights program from Day 1. Thanks to that generosity, students are only responsible for paying a registration fee. That covers jerseys, training aids, and coaching support.

“The Stevens brothers (D Las Vegas Casino Hotel co-owners Derek and Greg Stevens), they’re from Michigan,” Eliot said. “That’s their program, the little mites program. They sponsor that annually and with that sponsorship, it’s just been fantastic with the Golden Knights’ popularity.”

All of the coaches teaching the program are USA Hockey certified. The Lil’ Knights program follows the USA Hockey’s American Development Model, which is designed to help all individuals realize their athletic potential and utilize sport as a path toward an active and healthy lifestyle.

Vegas Minor hockey

“They’re learning offensive and defensive strategies, gap control, things to do with and away from the puck.”

“Kids get a chance to learn drills, they start practicing things in small-area games,” Matt Flynn, the Golden Knights’ senior manager for youth hockey development, told USA Hockey. “They’re learning offensive and defensive strategies, gap control, things to do with and away from the puck.”

Once acclimatized to the game, kids are directed toward house-league play, with the option of pursuing a higher level of hockey through the Vegas Jr. Golden Knights travel hockey program that fields both boys and girls teams.

“We basically build them into becoming good teammates,” Flynn said. “Then, they go into the house league.”

Looking to take hockey teaching to an even higher level in this non-traditional hockey market, Flynn approached middle schools across the Clark County, Nevada area to include hockey in their physical education programs. They supply the gear and educate the phys ed teachers who are unfamiliar with hockey in the ways of the game.

It isn’t just puckhandling and edgework that the Golden Knights seek to instil in their young proteges.

“We try to intermix life skills as much as possible,” Flynn told NHL.com. “You can have coaches, but as a young boy or girl, you need to be coachable. You need to be able to listen and respect your elders and know that someone is trying to help you.

“We’re teaching things like eye contact, a firm handshake and general life skills about working as a team. We try to mix all of that in.”

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Golden Knights Building Minor Hockey Brick by Brick

Part 2 in our series on minor hockey in Las Vegas

There was already youth hockey in town when the Vegas Golden Knights launched as an NHL expansion franchise in 2017. Well, sort of.

The local youth hockey organization counted 100 kids in its 8-under age bracket. Based on analytics, studying the standard patterns of drop out rates in youth sports, by the time that group of kids were 12-13, there would have been barely enough of them still playing to assemble two teams.

In other words, youth hockey wasn’t exactly a growth industry in Vegas. The Golden Knights set out to change that dynamic. Four years later, by all measures, they have accomplished their goal.

At the start of the 2020-21 season, there were more than 800 kids registered to play youth hockey in Vegas in the 8-under division.

“To have it grow eight fold in four years is incredible, said former NHL goalie Darren Eliot, who serves as Vice President of Hockey Programming and Facility Operations for the Golden Knights.

To create a long-term NHL success story in a non-traditional hockey market, the Golden Knights recognized from Day 1 that winning on the ice was just one factor in the equation.

Convincing the community to embrace hockey as their game was going to be every bit as valuable as each win and all the playoff appearances the team could accumulate. Not that success between the boards was a bad idea, mind you. Winning is always helpful.

Eliot, as well as Misha Donskov, the director of hockey operations for the Golden Knights, worked together on similar programs in Atlanta when the Thrashers joined the NHL in 1999. But they never were able to create the same kind of environment that’s clicked from Day 1 in Vegas.

“It all goes together,” Eliot said. “They (Golden Knights fans) want to care about their team and they do here. But one advantage we have here that the Thrashers didn’t is that Atlanta never had a playoff run, so there wasn’t that bonding with the team.

“In Vegas, it’s the first pro team and a success all four years. It helps to really embed that kind of loyalty to the Golden Knights.”

Another factor is the team’s willingness to invest in infrastructure at the grassroots level. Bill Foley, owner of the Golden Knights, has put his money where his mouth is, displaying that the club really believes in growing the game and they’re willing to foot the bill to help make it happen.

The club built a practice facility for the Golden Knights with two ice pads that accommodate area youth hockey when not being utilized by the NHL team. They are building a second two-pad ice complex in nearby Henderson, Nevada that will serve as practice facility for the AHL Henderson Silver Knights, the club’s top farm club, and will also be accessible to the youth hockey programs.

“You’ve got seven sheets of ice (for minor hockey) if you add in T-Mobile (Arena, home to the Golden Knights) and the new one coming.”

“Bill Foley and his investors, they built City National Arena to be the Golden Knights practice facility,” Eliot said. “It’s state of the art, a 140,000 square foot two-rink facility. They’ve done the same thing for the American League team. they’re building an event centre where Henderson will play their AHL games. That’ll be open in March. So we built another 120,000 square foot bigger-than-you-need-to facility for youth hockey.

“They added four sheets of ice that we have complete control over and access to.

“There’s two other existing facilities that are pretty beat up but they’re benefiting from the Vegas Golden Knights coming here. So you’ve got seven sheets of ice if you add in T-Mobile (Arena, home to the Golden Knights) and the new one coming.”

Vegas ownership and management succinctly recognize that one of the benefits of building a strong youth hockey program is that through osmosis, it’s also building a bigger fanbase for the team with each passing season.

In these markets that are new to the game, strong youth hockey programs aren’t intended to build future NHL players.

“That’s the unicorn theory,” Eliot said. “It’s a long shot (to make the NHL) no matter where you grow up.”

What a growing youth hockey program will do, however, is build future NHL fans.

It’s a simple philosophy, really.

Take someone to the hockey rink to watch and you’ll make them a fan for a game. Teach someone to play hockey and you’ll make them a fan of the game for life.

“I’m coaching an 8-under youth team,” Eliot said. “We get on the ice once a week and it’s fun. It’s really fun.”

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Vegas Setting New Standard In Minor Hockey

When it comes to NHL success stories, few franchises can measure up to the instant winning formula that was concocted by the Vegas Golden Knights. They were winners from the moment they stepped on the ice.

Vegas finished in first place as a first-year expansion franchise. The Golden Knights established NHL records for the most wins (51) and points (109) compiled by a first-year franchise. They joined the St. Louis Blues as the only NHL teams to reach the Stanley Cup final in their first year of existence. Though they lost to the Washington Capitals in five games, the Golden Knights managed to win a game in the final series, something the Blues weren’t able to do when they were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1967-68 final.

Into their fourth season, the Golden Knights are just one of 19 teams in NHL history to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first four seasons. They were an immediate smash hit and they are working hard to ensure that the future — both the short-term and long-term variety — will be equally fruitful.

“To see the excitement and the enthusiasm in this market has been really rewarding,” said former NHL goalie Darren Eliot, who serves as Vice President of Hockey Programming and Facility Operations for the Golden Knights. “Now we’ve got to keep on focusing.”

Certainly, the on-ice success story of the Golden Knights has helped to create a buzz about the game throughout the Nevada desert. But it’s not just about winning on the ice. From Day 1 for the Golden Knights, it’s been about winning over the people of Las Vegas, converting them into hockey lifers.

And that doesn’t start with a capacity crowd on game night. Sure, that type of environment develops excitement but it’s more of the instant gratification variety, getting caught up in the atmosphere and wanting to be part of that environment. But it’s a strong grassroots youth hockey program that creates hockey fans forever.

The Golden Knights recognized this fact of life from the outset.

“It’s really a long-term investment,” Eliot said.

“The parents are now hockey fans in the moment but their kid is the one who is playing hockey and has an affinity for the game.”

Over the course of his career, Eliot, 59, has frequently found himself situated in what would be termed emerging hockey markets. He tended goal for the Los Angeles Kings from 1984-87. In front-office positions, he’s worked for the Anaheim Ducks when they were still Mighty and for the Atlanta Thrashers.

“I never set out to get my doctorate degree in non-traditional hockey markets,” Eliot said. “ It’s just where the opportunity led me and kind of interested me and now this has become broad based for me.”

Misha Donskov, director of hockey operations for the Golden Knights, worked with Eliot in Atlanta.

“We had some really groundbreaking work done there,” Eliot said of his time in Georgia. “We did a ton of good things for youth hockey, hockey development, and brand extension.”

They also discovered that all of the hard work in a new market doesn’t add up to much if it isn’t backed up by the opportunity for kids to get out and play the game.

Eliot in particular remembered a conversation he had with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was leaving Atlanta and headed to Nashville while on a tour of NHL markets.

I said ‘Hey Gary do you ever drive to Nashville?’” Eliot recalled. “I said, ‘You know how many rinks you pass between Atlanta and Nashville? I’ll tell you the answer — zero.’

“Granting teams to these markets with no infrastructure, you just become an entertainment option, a novelty. In the 20 years since, (the NHL) has really recognized that you have to put in the money and the commitment.”

“It’s about building the infrastructure, because that’s the bigger piece. They’ve all figured that out.”

It’s hard to grow the game if the roots have nowhere to sprout and blossom.

In Vegas, youth programs such as learn to skate, learn to play and skills training are all designed to lead kids into playing organized hockey, whether that be house league or travel. Backing up these on-ice programs is a commitment from team ownership to provide the facilities and sponsors to deliver the financial wherewithal to make it all happen.

“It’s a long-term thing and it all has to come together and you don’t get that without putting in the effort to develop hockey programs in the area,” Eliot said. “That’s the bottom line.”

In the past, most youth hockey programs in non-traditional markets were generally started by Canadians who stayed in the area after their playing days, but there wasn’t any direct link to the team. They were blips on the radar that eventually faded away.

In Vegas, they recognize that long-term success for the franchise isn’t built merely around succeeding on the ice. By building a strong youth hockey program and investing in hockey futures, they are assembling a fan base for years to come. And if you get the kids on board, the adults are sure to follow.

“Seeing families and kids take to the game that we grew up with in Canada taking it for granted, I’m loving every minute of it,” Eliot said.

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Options for OHL Draft Eligible Players In Strange Year

The past year has not been easy for anyone in the hockey community, especially in Ontario. The complete shutdown of hockey has left players anxious to play, parents worried about  their child’s development and teams struggling to navigate recruitment and player evaluations. 

Puck ChaserThe upcoming OHL Draft is a lightning rod for all of this uneasiness. With unsubstantiated rumours of back-door dealings between agents and teams, innuendos of back-handed recruitment deals mixed in with a double dose of the usual pre-draft angst, and you have a perfect storm. What should a family do? 

Sign on with one of the many “Scouting Insider” websites? Start promotional videos from random training skates and plaster over social media? Show video of your kid doing box jumps in the basement? 

First of all, take a deep breath. The reality is that this is not the time to overreact to the unique circumstances these players are facing because of COVID-19 restrictions. The message should be that this is one stop in a very long journey that will have more than its share of bumps in the road along the way. 

Ontario Hockey League teams recognize that they are up against an impossible task. Not only do scouts have limited viewings of players and often are basing decisions on stats from a year ago, you also have a “snake draft” that sees teams picking #1 not picking again till #40. 

The #20 pick will get the #21 pick as well as the #1 Euro pick. (Congrats to the Barrie Colts on that horseshoe luck) 

This type of draft has led teams to realize that there will be a lot of good players available in middle rounds. They also know that many of the late picks may be extremely undervalued and some of the higher picks may be overvalued. 

Through conversation with scouts and executives, it appears teams are spending extra time on the background checks of players with work ethic and personality traits now just as important as perceived skill sets. 

There is no doubt players will be drafted higher and lower than they should be this year. The other fact is that there will be a number of good players completely missed in this draft. While it happens in every draft, it is going to happen a lot in this one. 

The development from U15 (bantam) to U18 (midget) is exponential in many kids and being missed in this year’s draft is inevitable if the player was unable to highlight these gains in comparable situations. 

Being drafted late or not being drafted at all — especially this year— is not necessarily a negative outcome. It should be viewed as an opportunity.

To understand the why, it is important to look at options available to 16-year-old players. 

Each OHL team can only keep four 16-year-old players on their roster. Ontario Junior Hockey League teams are allowed two (they can apply for more via a card allocation process) , while Junior B (two players) and Junior C teams (1 player) are limited options. This extremely restricts the number of available spots for these players to play junior hockey. 

There are also rules and guidelines around the amount of ice time that these players are required to receive. While each situation is different. the key thing is the players need to play.

The more they play the better. Because the OHL draft will have so many hit and misses, the view by many is that not as many 16-year-old players will make OHL teams this year as would usually make it. 

Many players will need more development and more playing time. This means that this upcoming season should be one of the best major midget (U18)  years on record. Scouts will be scouring to find kids that were overlooked. While U18 AAA hockey is a fantastic option, many players and families do not fully appreciate it. Everyone is eager to move to the next level, but this year it may be the best option to be seen by scouts. 

NCAA teams are benefitting from the fact that this COVID-induced glitch in the OHL recruiting machine may allow more players to slip through and give them a better chance of landing a top end talent that may have traditionally chosen the OHL route. 

More and more players are choosing the NCAA route and with so much upheaval with this year’s draft, the NCAA recruiters are expecting a bumper crop of recruits to be available with the 2005 age group. 

The decision to take a card in the OJHL or Junior B or C is not to be taken lightly as there are many things to consider.

Are the junior teams skating everyday? Who are the coaches? Do they have strength and conditioning coaches? Do they have skill providers attached to the teams?  What is the makeup of the team? What is the culture like? All of these questions need to be evaluated. Placing your 16-year-old son on a team of Junior C men — who could be as old as 21 — may pay dividends, but if the culture is off it also could be detrimental. 

The advice here is trust the process. Getting drafted to the OHL is a proud moment for players and family. It’s a milestone to be cherished and celebrated. It identifies achievement but it also needs to be looked at as just another milestone. It’s not how good you are at 16, it’s how good you are at 21. 

Players need to play and develop. Players need to want it more than the next guy to reach that next level. And sometimes, you need to find that situation where someone believes in you. This year more players will get that “free agent” feeling as they try to find that perfect route for them 

 Best of luck to everyone.

Amateur Hockey Scouting

The post Options for OHL Draft Eligible Players In Strange Year appeared first on Elite Level Hockey.

Categories
Hockey

U18 Hockey Gives Players Another Chance to Shine

The past year has not been easy for anyone in the hockey community, especially in Ontario. The complete shutdown of hockey has left players anxious to play, parents worried about  their child’s development and teams struggling to navigate recruitment and player evaluations. 

Puck ChaserThe upcoming OHL Draft is a lightning rod for all of this uneasiness. With unsubstantiated rumours of back-door dealings between agents and teams, innuendos of back-handed recruitment deals mixed in with a double dose of the usual pre-draft angst, and you have a perfect storm. What should a family do? 

Sign on with one of the many “Scouting Insider” websites? Start promotional videos from random training skates and plaster over social media? Show video of your kid doing box jumps in the basement? 

First of all, take a deep breath. The reality is that this is not the time to overreact to the unique circumstances these players are facing because of COVID-19 restrictions. The message should be that this is one stop in a very long journey that will have more than its share of bumps in the road along the way. 

Ontario Hockey League teams recognize that they are up against an impossible task. Not only do scouts have limited viewings of players and often are basing decisions on stats from a year ago, you also have a “snake draft” that sees teams picking #1 not picking again till #40. 

The #20 pick will get the #21 pick as well as the #1 Euro pick. (Congrats to the Barrie Colts on that horseshoe luck) 

This type of draft has led teams to realize that there will be a lot of good players available in middle rounds. They also know that many of the late picks may be extremely undervalued and some of the higher picks may be overvalued. 

Through conversation with scouts and executives, it appears teams are spending extra time on the background checks of players with work ethic and personality traits now just as important as perceived skill sets. 

There is no doubt players will be drafted higher and lower than they should be this year. The other fact is that there will be a number of good players completely missed in this draft. While it happens in every draft, it is going to happen a lot in this one. 

The development from U15 (bantam) to U18 (midget) is exponential in many kids and being missed in this year’s draft is inevitable if the player was unable to highlight these gains in comparable situations. 

Being drafted late or not being drafted at all — especially this year— is not necessarily a negative outcome. It should be viewed as an opportunity. To understand the why, it is important to look at options available to 16-year-old players. 

Each OHL team can only keep four 16-year-old players on their roster. Ontario Junior Hockey League teams are allowed two (they can apply for more via a card allocation process) and Junior B and C teams are allowed one each. This extremely limits the number of available spots for these players to play junior hockey. 

There are also rules and guidelines around the amount of ice time that these players are required to receive. While each situation is different. the key thing is the players need to play.

The more they play the better. Because the OHL draft will have so many hit and misses, the view by many is that not as many 16-year-old players will make OHL teams this year as would usually make it. 

Many players will need more development and more playing time. This means that this upcoming season should be one of the best major midget (U18)  years on record. Scouts will be scouring to find kids that were overlooked. While U18 AAA hockey is a fantastic option, many players and families do not fully appreciate it. Everyone is eager to move to the next level, but this year it may be the best option to be seen by scouts. 

NCAA teams are benefitting from the fact that this COVID-induced glitch in the OHL recruiting machine may allow more players to slip through and give them a better chance of landing a top end talent that may have traditionally chosen the OHL route. 

More and more players are choosing the NCAA route and with so much upheaval with this year’s draft, the NCAA recruiters are expecting a bumper crop of recruits to be available with the 2005 age group. 

The decision to take a card in the OJHL or Junior B or C is not to be taken lightly as there are many things to consider.

Are the junior teams skating everyday? Who are the coaches? Do they have strength and conditioning coaches? Do they have skill providers attached to the teams?  What is the makeup of the team? What is the culture like? All of these questions need to be evaluated. Placing your 16-year-old son on a team of Junior C men — who could be as old as 21 — may pay dividends, but if the culture is off it also could be detrimental. 

The advice here is trust the process. Getting drafted to the OHL is a proud moment for players and family. It’s a milestone to be cherished and celebrated. It identifies achievement but it also needs to be looked at as just another milestone. It’s not how good you are at 16, it’s how good you are at 21. 

Players need to play and develop. Players need to want it more than the next guy to reach that next level. And sometimes, you need to find that situation where someone believes in you. This year more players will get that “free agent” feeling as they try to find that perfect route for them 

 Best of luck to everyone.

Amateur Hockey Scouting

The post U18 Hockey Gives Players Another Chance to Shine appeared first on Elite Level Hockey.

Categories
Hockey Tournaments

Minor Hockey Tournaments: May 24-May 31

Every week, Elite Level Hockey will be previewing some of the best minor hockey tournaments in North America during the spring hockey and winter seasons. Tournaments are not ranked in any way and are selected to help promote boy’s and girl’s minor hockey at all levels and age groups.

Twin Ports Elite Prospects Showcase

Twin Ports Elite Prospects Showcase takes place over the U.S. Memorial Day weekend in the twin ports of Duluth MN/Superior WI. The Twin Ports AAA Female Elite Prospects tournament is a showcase event for those players serious about becoming college student-athletes.

Coaches from over a dozen NCAA women’s hockey programs attend each year, along with more and more ACHA Division 1 and 2 programs. Teams will also be given recruiting forms to provide info about their players that will be passed along to all college programs that attend the tournament.

The tournament is built for elite/AAA players in the U16-U19 divisions.

View schedules and standings

The Boston Showdown

The Boston Showdown is an Elite level spring hockey tournament hosted by the Junior Bruins over Memorial Day Weekend at the New England Sports Center (NESC) in Marlboro, MA., for 2010-2014 aged players. The tournament will host teams from Florida, Illinois, Minnesota as well as from Boston and the rest of New England.

View Schedules and Standings

SC Memorial Cup

SC Memorial Cup takes place in North Charleston, SC and is part of the TCS Hockey
Tournament Cup Series. Featuring boys divisions from U8 – U18 and Girls U12 – U16, the tournament offers a variety of skill divisions including AAA, AA, A, Tier 1, Tier 2. All teams will be guaranteed 4 games, with most being held at the Carolina Ice Palace.

Learn More About The Tournament

Greater Michigan Prospects Showcase
Detroit, MI
Ages: 2002 – 2006
Divisions: High School

Warrior Boston Spring Invite
Foxborough, MA
Ages: 2001, 2003, 2005 – 2014
Divisions: Tier 1

Bad to the Bone
Chicago, IL
Ages: U12 Peewees
Divisions: AA

New England States Rivalry Challenge
Exeter, NH
Ages: U16 Midgets, 2006 – 2010
Divisions: Elite, Invitational Only

Triple Crown of Hockey
Nashville, TN
Ages: 2007
Divisions: AAA

TCS Boston Memorial Cup
Brighton, MA
Ages: U8 – U18, Girls U12 – U16, 2007 – 2013, U15 Midgets
Divisions: AAA, AA, A, Tier 1, Tier 2

Memorial Day Tournament
Aston, PA
Ages: U6 – U18
Divisions: AAA, AA, A, B, C

Glacier Invitational
Vernon Hills, IL
Ages: U6 – U12
Divisions: AA, A, B

Oakland Grizzlies AAA Spring Invite
Fraser, MI
Ages: U16 – U18, Girls U14 – U19, 2006 – 2012, U15 Midgets
Divisions: AAA

Niagara Falls Memorial Day Cup
Amherst, NY
Ages: U8 – U18
Divisions: AAA, AA, A, B, C

Battle in the Desert
Mesa, AZ
Ages: U16 – U18
Divisions: AA, A, B

Connecticut Rush
Northford, CT
Ages: U12 – U18, Girls U12 – U19
Divisions: Tier 2

2021 Memorial Day Tournament
Wesley Chapel, FL
Ages: U10 – U16
Divisions: AA, A

Philadelphia Shootout
West Chester, PA
Ages: U8 – U18, U15 Midgets
Divisions: AAA, AA

NOTE: Some tournaments may be cancelled or rescheduled.

The post Minor Hockey Tournaments: May 24-May 31 appeared first on Elite Level Hockey.