California’s and Nevada’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

Jr. Golden Knights boosting youth hockey in Las Vegas with NHL team’s support

 

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When the NHL announced an expansion team for Las Vegas, a game plan was quickly put into place to form a partnership that would engage the local youth hockey community.

Consider that done, and growing.

The Vegas Golden Knights have been the talk of the NHL this season, while the Vegas Jr. Golden Knights continue to make strides at the youth level. Formerly the Nevada Storm, the organization rebranded last summer and wears the same colors as its NHL counterpart.

Throw in the fact that one of the Jr. Golden Knights’ home rinks is the brand-new City National Arena – the NHL club’s practice rink – and the partnership is more than conducive to achieving – and maintaining – success.

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“The feedback has been great and to be honest, we’re still working on the finishing touches of our building, so we believe the finished product will add to that great feedback,” said City National Arena director of hockey operations and assistant manager Robbert McDonald, also a Jr. Golden Knights board member. “Everyone from the pros to the public who have skated on our ice have nothing but high remarks to say about it, which is what we’re striving for.”

McDonald added that when it comes to the Jr. Golden Knights players and families, the new rink and NHL support is extremely significant to the program.

“I think any time there is a change in naming and philosophies within a program, there are those expected growing pains,” McDonald said. “However, those are outweighed by the excitement of being affiliated to the big club, and what makes this situation very unique is that the big club is involved in the club’s day-to-day operations and future planning. I think with that, we’ve been able to provide a much different experience than what the membership has experienced in the past – along with the excitement of the jerseys for the players, and the team hosting the club to a home game for Vegas Jr. Golden Knights Night on Dec. 3 against the Arizona Coyotes.”

jrknights2This season, the Jr. Golden Knights have 13 youth teams – three Mite teams (2009, 2010, 2011 birth years), three Squirt teams (one A-level, two B-level), three Pee Wee teams (A, AA, B), two Bantam teams (A, AA), a Midget 16U AA team and a high school varsity team at the Division III level.

McDonald, also a Squirt coach in the program, said the Jr. Golden Knights will continue to grow in this new environment.

“The club will continue to excel as all three Learn to Play programs at the three facilities (City National Arena, SoBe Ice Arena, Las Vegas Ice Center) continue to grow,” said McDonald. “Thanks to the NHL team being here and having the success they’ve had thus far, it has brought a lot of interest to the sport and all three rinks will benefit from that, which in turn will help the club grow and develop hockey players.

“The NHL team’s success has helped grow the interest of the game for our players and their families now that they can attend NHL games and watch them on TV, along with coming to City National Arena and watching how the pros practice.”

And having members of the NHL team’s front office on board with the youth operation is another plus for the association.

“Several members of our Executive Board work within our hockey operations for the team, so we’re very connected in all aspects of our program building under our brand,” McDonald said. “We’ve got guys who bring a great deal of experience from all aspects of hockey to the table, and we’re tapping into all have knowledge and experience as a group to make sure we do this the right way.”

The Storm grew in leaps and bounds over the years and it’s a grand hope that the Jr. Golden Knights have the opportunity to become one of the top programs in the Pacific District as well.

“I believe we have all the pieces in place that to build that kind of culture here, and I’ve used the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes as a prime example of a club doing it right in a market similar to ours,” said McDonald. “To see their Tier I teams competing like they do in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League and developing hockey players, you want your organization to do the same and provide opportunities for our kids. Their club, along with the NHL team there, have done a tremendous job in not only growing the game in terms of other clubs starting, but the quality of the teams has done nothing but get better and we as a brand strive to do the same.”

An example of how close the Las Vegas community is was brought to the forefront after the shocking, tragic events of Oct. 1.

“The organization supplied the kids with ‘Vegas Strong’ helmet stickers that match that of the big teams – but aside from that, nothing that any other organization would have done if they were in our shoes in that you try to provide normalcy for the kids and families.” McDonald said. “Teams within our organization raised money for UNLV assistant coach Nick Robone, who was wounded in the incident.”

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At the end of the day, and it won’t happen overnight, but it’s clear that Las Vegas is on its way to becoming a hockey hotbed.

“Vegas has all the makings to become one, but it’s a process and knowing we can’t rush this, we want to do it right so that it leads to multiple rinks and youth hockey clubs popping up all over town similar to that of Arizona and California,” said McDonald said. “The city is full of young, athletic ability and drive and I think if the combination of this city and the team have shown anything thus far, it’s that the game is blossoming quicker than some could have imagined.

“Our short-term goals are to establish the Golden Knights way of doing things right, and creating that hockey culture that then transitions into achieving our long-term goals of not only growing the game for future Jr. Golden Knights players, but also the club being nationally recognized in helping our hockey players pursue their goals in becoming successful young men and women.”

Photos/Michelle Ditondo

— Matt Mackinder

(Feb. 7, 2018)