No, this is not my first rodeo.

Micah played nine years of travel hockey.  I was the team manager for six of those teams.  I was able to see good seasons and bad seasons.  I had the honor to meet and become good friends with many parents (undoubtedly, some of you reading this have gotten to know me because I was the manager for your child on one of those teams).  I have also had the opportunity to work with more challenging parents and skaters.  This coming season will be different for a number of reasons.

The most obvious reason is that, for the first time, I will be a team manager without a child on the team.  Micah will only be with this team in spirit, hopefully helping guide our goalies and myself from afar.  I’ve already had a few people ask me, “Can you be the team manager if your kid isn’t on the team?  Why would you want to do that?”  Umm, because I’m conditionally insane?  Because I actually love youth hockey and everything it can stand for and mean–and as a man that does not skate, has never scored a goal or made a save in a competitive hockey game in his life, this is what I have to offer to make this great sport better.

Here’s the major difference: this is a brand new team being built from the ice up.  There is no core of players returning from last season.  There is no team migrating over from another organization to fill the void.  We don’t have a huge shiny, glittery draw — no former NHL player coach (though we do have a former standout ASU ACHA D1 player assistant coach, and other former college players interested in being a part of the coaching staff), no long-standing reputation as an “Elite” hockey program, no promises to go kick the world’s collective hiney in a top-notch, get-your-ass-handed-to-you tournament.

This team, a team that everyone involved will be proud to say is OUR team, will have kids and families that look deeper than the thin veneer presented to you at a tryout, or a phone call from a coach or team parent.  It’s highly unlikely you’re going to talk to Coach Esaena, Coach Levos or myself and be told that your kid is going to be the superstar.  We’re not likely going to offer your child their own dressing room (okay, unless your child happens to be a girl :)).  We’re not going to pump you up with the helium of how we can help your child get noticed by scouts, how we can help your child take that next step towards that first NHL contract–next season, or how that extra “A” on the end of the team name really means something.  When you talk to our coaches or myself, it will be about how we would like to get to know you and your child.  It will be about how your child would be a great member of our team–someone that can be a leader on and off the ice.  We will talk about how your child fits in–not like from a cookie-cutter, but how your child can be an integral part of a bigger picture.  Know how you beat a good goalie?  Teamwork, passing, not letting the other team simply target your best two players and by shutting them down, shut down your game.  Know how to be on our team?  Teamwork, hard work, consistency, effort, and a drive to be the best player–and young man/woman–you can be, both because it feels good to win as an individual, but more importantly because it feels even better to win as a part of something special: a team.

Earlier this morning, I posted a brief comment on Facebook about looking for players, and how I am fighting against substantial odds for a number of reasons in building this team.  Here are a few of those reasons:

  • WE BEGIN AS NOBODY.  As I stated earlier, we do not have a core group of players returning to act as a foundation to build our team “up” from.  We begin this process as two coaches and a manager that do not even have our own kids to contribute to the size and strength of the team.
  • WE BEGIN AS NOBODY II.  Coaches Matt Esaena and Jared Levos are not well-known household hockey names.  Do families know them?  I imagine many do, but this is not like saying Wayne Gretzky is our head coach, or that two popular, recently retired NHL players will be helping us out on the ice.  Does this mean that Coach Esaena and Coach Levos are not good coaches?  Absolutely not.  This just means that perhaps their path in hockey was not playing in the NHL, but using their knowledge and love of the sport to help others play and enjoy playing.
  • AH-WHO?  Let’s cut right to the chase here.  The CAHA Jr Coyotes programs have an automatic draw by borrowing the Arizona Coyotes logo.  The DYHA Jr Sun Devils get to wear Sparky on their jerseys.  CAHA, DYHA and the Bobcats have long reputations for great teams, solid coaches and winning hockey.  Mission does too–but the sheer distance between AZ Ice Peoria and AZ Ice Gilbert means most families will truly only consider the organizations closest to home.  The Arizona Hockey Union, AHU, is typically looked at as that other, weaker program (that CAHA, the Bobcats and DYHA often draft players out of–but that’s a story for a different blog post).  Did you know that AHU’s Bantam Silver AA team this season won the State Bantam Tier II Championship and is headed to Nationals next week?  Did you know that AHU’s Bantam Silver AA team in 2014-15 won 29 games and made it to the State Championship game in March 2015?  How about that AHU’s Midget 18AA team won the State Title in 2014-15 and performed well at Nationals?  Did you know that the Peewee Tier II State Championship Trophy sits in Bob Platt and Kurt Goar’s office at AZ Ice Gilbert, retired to the Arizona Hockey Union after Micah and his AHU Peewee AA team won the last ever Peewee Tier II State Title in March 2012?  If you actually silenced the trash-talking about AHU for a few minutes and looked up the past winners at the Tier II level, you’d find quite a few AHU teams on that list over the last 20 years.  AHU does not blow its own horn about being an elite program, because frankly we find it more important to give everyone a chance and to develop everyone’s skills and love of the game.  AHU doesn’t exclude today’s kids that are “less than” Elite because we know that today’s Squirt B player might become tomorrow’s Peewee A player…and then down the road, a solid Midget AA/AAA player.  Know how I know?  Because if you were to look at the resume of many of the kids playing on those Elite teams on other organizations, you’d find they started at AHU.  That 2012 Peewee AA Championship team?  This past season, players from that team were playing on: DYHA Midget 16AA, CAHA Jr Coyotes Midget 16AAA, Bobcats Midget 16AAA, CAHA Jr Coyotes Midget 16AA…
  • THE HOCKEY POVERTY LINE.  Hockey is a very expensive sport.  From the $800-1000 it costs to play on a house team to the sometimes $15-20,000 it will cost a family to play on an Elite travel team that jets across North America half a dozen, seven, eight times to play their games, it’s not a sport that’s afraid to empty parental bank accounts.  Unfortunately, with an expensive sport sometimes comes a very upper-crust attitude.  Entitlement.  Snobbery.  Parents wanting to make sure everyone else knows just how much money they have, namedropping…  Does this mean that all people that can afford to play hockey are pretentious snobs?  Absolutely not.  I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a number of very well-to-do individuals in the hockey world that are the opposite of pretentious.  Some of the wealthiest of people I’ve met are the nicest, least boastful, least pretentious people.  But I’ve also had my son come to me and ask, at a young age, why Johnny has all this cool stuff, why Michael’s parents buy him new goalie pads every six weeks when he only gets one new set each season, why we never host a team party…  Gilbert is a fantastic community with some of the best public schools, nicest subdivisions, and safe neighborhoods in the Valley, but it’s not North Scottsdale.  AZ Ice Gilbert is a nice rink with good, solid ice most of the time, but it’s not the cathedral to youth hockey that Ice Den Scottsdale is.  There are, unfortunately, nice kids and good families that, for one reason or another, will not consider playing south of the Rio Salado.  It’s not the Mason-Dixon line, but it’s close…  The irony is, most families in hockey can use any break they can get to allow their kids to play this fantastic sport.  If you decide to try life in the Deep Hockey South, you might find out that: AHU gives out $20,000+ in annual need-based scholarships to our families, AHU consistently has among the lowest overall costs for playing travel hockey in Arizona, both in terms of contract costs and travel expenses, and AHU also believes in paying it forward–our teams are encouraged not only to conduct fundraising to help defray costs, but more importantly to be involved out in the community doing service work to help those whose concerns are far greater than whether to buy the $140 stick or the $250 one.

I’m sure there are other reasons that are escaping my mind right now.  Do I believe in everything AHU does?  Of course not.  No reasonable, rational person will not always agree 100 percent with anything anyone else does.  However, sometimes I fear the truth about our non-Elite organizations gets lost among the noise at the rinks…

So, are you and your 2002 or 2003 skater or goalie game for something a little different this Fall?