Little Sharks leading the way in Bay Area hockey growth
Amber Cottle is the marketing coordinator for the San Jose Sharks and part of her duties is to manage all of the planning and logistics related to the Little Sharks program.
The Little Sharks program hosts two sessions of “Learn to Play” classes every year. During the 2016-17 season, the Sharks had approximately 800 participants in the program – 400 in each session. The Sharks are on target to reach the same numbers during the 2017-18 season. Learn to Play is now an NHL initiative that has helped grow the program and offset some of the program’s costs.
Every NHL team has some type of Learn to Play program, but something that makes Little Sharks special is that a Sharks alum is the lead instructor at almost every class.
“This program removes the biggest hurdle in introducing players to the game of hockey – the financial aspect of purchasing all the gear,” explained Cottle. “This program provides kids who previously may not have had the opportunity to try this sport a chance to experience the game first hand. I find it so rewarding to see the Little Sharks on the ice with big smiles on their faces. This year, we hosted our Fitting Days at Solar4America Ice at San Jose and many of the kids went inside after receiving their gear to test it out during open skate. It was pretty cool to see all the Little Sharks out on the ice wearing their jerseys for the first time.”
“I think it is incredibly important for this program to grow the game in this area,” Cottle said. “Due to our weather, this area is not a traditional hockey market, so I would say that we have an extra responsibility to grow this game and introduce new players to the sport who previously may not have realized that hockey was an accessible option. Our goal is to continue growing the game and our footprint. We are currently hosting classes in seven rinks across the Bay Area and we are looking to add to that number in the coming years.”
As the youth hockey manager at Solar4America Ice at San Jose, Matt Adams oversees the Jr. Sharks House League, the next step after kids complete the Little Sharks program.
“I’ve been skating at the rink since 1997, an employee since 2000, in my current roll as youth hockey manager since 2008 and in that time, I have had the opportunity to see the complete youth hockey journey from start to finish for many kids,” said Adams. “I am not a parent myself, but I enjoy getting that ‘proud parent feeling’ when I see a kid first step on the ice at the age of six and you see the struggles they go through, to them honing their skills to move into a league environment or travel team, then to see them age out of youth hockey at the AA or AAA level.
“It’s pretty rewarding to see the growth of a child over the time in our program.”
Adams added that “the next generation of hockey players will also be the next generation of hockey fans.”
“They will be the next generation of Sharks season ticket holders, they will be the next generation of Jr. Sharks coaches and managers,” Adams said. “And somewhere in the middle of that next generation of American-born hockey players could be the next Joe Pavelski, the next Auston Matthews, the next Jack Eichel. We need to have as many players possible, young and old, playing this sport in order to guarantee its health for years to come. I’d be lying if I said that for those of us involved in youth hockey, we don’t care if the next NHL superstar emerges from our respective programs, but for every blue-chip player that we produce, we should be creating a thousand more recreational hockey players.
“We need to foster a love for the game in as many youth players as we can, regardless of their skill, age, location or background.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Oct. 26, 2017)