Vacaville’s Mite program ready for takeoff
By Greg Ball
There’s something exciting going on at Vacaville Ice Sports northeast of San Francisco, and it’s bringing more and more young players into the Vacaville Jets program.
The Jets have traditionally had trouble putting a full Mite team on the ice, yet this season they have enough players to ice two teams. The change is a big deal for one of the state’s smaller organizations, and it could signal a new era of growth coming in the near future.
“It’s really exciting,” said Kody Thomas, who coaches both of the Jets’ Mite teams and also directs the organization’s in-house hockey program. “We’re thrilled to be able to field two full Mite teams this season, and I think it really shows that the Jets program is growing.”
The Mite Blue team roster includes 10 players: Brendan Alders, James Andretich, Brendan Delia, James Durfee, Mateo Hague, Ben Kevan Jr., Nolan Kinder, Erik Lisenko, Jonathon McGinn and Samuel Silvanic.
The Mite Red team includes eight players: Johnny Andretich, Colin Jon Bernardez, Salahadeen Fernandez, William Fleet, Jett Levin, Tony Moore, Gabriel Townsend and Trystan Zuniga.
Larry Cahn, the Jets’ director of hockey and a veteran of many years coaching youth hockey players, said fielding two mite teams this season is a positive development toward establishing the type of program they want to have in Vacaville.
“It’s nice to see the bottom of the pyramid filling up fast,” Cahn said. “We plan to have two teams at all levels, and seeing our Mites get to two teams this season means we’re on our way.”
Thomas said that it’s easy to trace the roots of the increased interest in participation at the Mite level, and it all starts from the ground up.
“We run a free hockey program that has practices twice a week, and we’re on the 15th group of those players,” Thomas said. “Some of the kids on the mite teams now started with that, then moved on to in-house hockey, then decided to play Mites. It’s all starting from the very bottom in Vacaville, and it’s pretty cool to see.”
The free hockey program has become so popular that there’s a substantial waiting list now to get in to the eight-week sessions. The Jets provide full hockey gear for all players, and volunteer coaches run practices every Tuesday and Saturday that help introduce kids to the game. Many of them have never been on skates before.
“When I look at the Squirt team, a lot of them were Mites with me when I was the assistant coach last season, and a lot of them came through the in-house program,” Thomas said. “Our in-house program is still growing, but a lot of our kids playing with the Jets travel teams, even up to pee wees, are all products of our in-house efforts.”
Giving kids at the 8U level an opportunity to play on Mite teams helps build their foundation as hockey players, Thomas said, and eventually makes them better Squirt players. It’s an important steppingstone in any player’s development as they progress through the ranks.
At the Mite level, Thomas focuses heavily on developing skating skills. He tries to keep practices fast-paced with lots of station work to keep the young players engaged and excited while limiting time spent standing around. He puts a particular emphasis on helping kids learn to love hockey, knowing that if they develop a passion for it, they’ll want to work hard to get better.
“By playing on these Mite teams, they get a chance to go to other rinks and play against other opponents that they wouldn’t get to face playing in-house, and it gives them a little bit of a taste of it before they move on to the full travel when they play Squirts and Pee Wees,” said Thomas, who grew up in the Vacaville area playing hockey but didn’t play in leagues until he was 16. “That just builds some excitement for them; they want to be like the big kids.”