Heat embraces family-like atmosphere
Hockey across the state of California continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and the California Heat program is no exception.
Based out of Panorama City, new president Jennifer Sprow says that, with around 175 players suiting up on 11 teams across five different age divisions this season, the organization is as strong as ever.
“We’re unique in that we’re an independent club that has a very strong sense of family,” said Sprow, who’s entering her eighth year as part of the Heat organization, but her first as club president. “Our goal is to make sure everybody feels as though their participation in our program means that they’re part of the Heat family.
“A lot of times players come to us from other programs and comment on how warm and welcoming it is here, and that’s something we as an organization take a lot of pride in.”
Originally known as the West Valley Wolves prior to becoming the Heat in May of 2012, the organization was affiliated with the Valencia Express before dissolving the relationship and unifying the program’s A, B and tier teams under one name.
With teams ranging from Mite up to Midget 16U AA, including three AA teams – a first for the organization – under the guidance of director of player development Alec Benson-Dunn, the Heat continues to work to improve players of all ages on the ice, but Sprow says it’s equally important for them to develop solid off-ice traits as well.
“We take a bit of a different approach compared to other minor hockey programs,” said Sprow. “Of course we’re always trying to develop hockey players and better their skills and careers, but we’re also trying to give them the best possible experience we can, as well as giving them the skills they’re going to need when they move on from the program.”
One of the Heat’s alumni success stories is that of Philadelphia Flyers draft pick and current Harvard University sophomore Merrick Madsen. Madsen, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, is currently studying applied math and statistics at Harvard, and Sprow says the impact the goaltender has had – and continues to have – on the Heat program is significant.
“It’s just such an amazing story,” said Sprow. “He’s such a great mentor and a role model for everyone in our program. The connection the kids have with him (is special).
“Obviously not every kid is going to reach the NHL, but to have Merrick to look up to and to have such a great success story of someone who worked his way up with a lot of hard work and dedication – that’s a great lesson for our organization to pass on to our players and coaches.”
Off the ice, the Heat jumped into action over summer to help out a family with close ties to the organization after a tragic death.
Dedicated Heat supporter Kurt Miller passed away suddenly on July 21 at the age of 49, and Sprow says it’s tough to sum up what Miller and his family mean to the Heat organization.
“He has four kids, and all of them either are or were a member of the Heat at some point,” said Sprow. “He was just such a dear friend of everyone in the organization.
“We invited everybody in and had a skate, a silent auction and raffle items. It was just such a tough time for everyone, and just so emotional. We just tried to honor his memory by doing what he loved to do, which is be at the rink.”
– John B. Spigott