Jr. Kings pushing ADM advantage to fullest
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While their success developing, exposing and advancing their elite players to higher levels of the game traditionally grabs the lion’s share of the headlines, the Los Angeles Jr. Kings haven’t taken their eye off the ball when it comes to restocking the cupboards at the youngest age groups.
Icing three Mite (8U) teams this season – two at the Track I level (2006 and ’07 birth years) and one at Track II (’07) – the organization has been one of Southern California’s leaders as it relates to embracing USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) through their recent Jamborees and tournament offerings.
In conjunction with the ADM, the Jr. Kings are also working closely with the California Amateur Hockey Association in an effort to educate those within the club about Long-Term Athlete Development, which is the fact-based science behind the ADM and encourages age-appropriate skill development and training over competition at the younger levels.
There are a number of elements that comprise the ADM, among them recommending that Mites play cross-ice games – this year’s ’06 birth years will be able to play half ice after Jan. 1 – so they can handle the puck more and develop their skills in an engaging environment.
“But the ADM isn’t just about cross-ice games,” noted Jr. Kings executive director Kelly Sorensen. “It’s also about keeping the game fun so kids and parents want to come back for more.”
And the Jr. Kings are doing just that in an effort to cater to their youngest of clientele. Their Jamborees, which are showcased at El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center (TSC) – home of the Jr. Kings – and have attracted a number of Southern California Amateur Hockey Association programs, highlight a cluster of organized “friendlies” in a fun-filled environment.
No scores are recorded during the Jamborees, which are held at family-friendly times on the weekends, and the afternoons are capped off with a pizza party – hosted by the Jr. Kings and TSC – for all the participating players.
“Our Jamborees have been well received by both the coaches and parents, and I think that speaks volumes about our commitment to delivering USA Hockey’s message,” said Sorensen. “The last thing we want to do is intimidate these young boys and girls and their families when they’re first introduced to the sport, and our Jamboree atmosphere does just the opposite; the kids can’t wait to come back for more.”
The Jr. Kings have also hosted two highly successful Track I divisions this season as part of their Tinseltown Tournament Series. The club attracted five teams for its Labor Day Hockey Fest, and eight at its most-recent Thanksgiving Extravaganza.
The program does add a hint of competitiveness for the Mites at its tournaments with championship games. At both its Labor Day and Thanksgiving showcases, after the two-day, cross-ice cluster events on TSC’s Olympic ice surface during which scores were kept, the top four teams advanced to championship and third-place games on half ice on the facility’s NHL sheet.
Track I teams will play full-ice games on TSC’s Pond sheet for the Jr. Kings’ upcoming Presidents’ Day Challenge, with Track II teams playing a cross-ice cluster event on the Olympic sheet before half-ice championship and third-place games on the NHL surface.
The overall experience, though, stresses camaraderie and sportsmanship at their very core.
“It’s nice to give the kids a taste of a tournament atmosphere, but again we pride ourselves on doing it the right way, and that means keeping the games fun above everything else,” said Sorensen. “It’s neat for the kids play for a trophy, and nothing beats the smiles on their faces when they have those medals around their necks.”
In the end, it’s about introducing more Southern California kids to the sport minus the pressure and commitment that hindered hockey’s growth before the implementation of the ADM.
“Hockey across the country has come such a long ways over the years as it relates to participation and retention, and we – as a program – are going to do everything we can to help keep moving that needle in the right direction,” Sorensen added.
– Brian McDonough