New HDC San Diego training program aiming to develop, keep homegrown talent in SoCal
In yet another sign that the game of hockey is growing in California, the new HDC San Diego association is now up and running.
HDC San Diego is a new hockey training program that is owned by Ken and Kelly Baker with Tori Pizzuto serving as the hockey operations manager.
Ken Baker said being part of this new initiative was a no-brainer.
“Quite honestly, I’d like to give promising local players a new and powerful opportunity to reach higher levels in technique development right here at home,” said Baker. “Many players from San Diego leave the area to pursue training centers around the country. I’d like to raise the overall level of play here by keeping that talent around and helping to raise a new generation of players and expand the game in San Diego.
“The process to get to this point has been steady and methodical. My wife Kelly and I partnered with HDTS (Hockey Development Training System, based in Slovakia) in 2022 with a mutually-beneficial agreement. While HDC San Diego benefits from a fully-equipped world-class training center, HDTS now gains a key spot in a beautiful destination city in North America to showcase all of its patented technology to other customers. They help us by sharing key strategies and proven methods, we help them to establish a presence in the U.S.”
Pizzuto, who has previous work experience with the Los Angeles Kings, LA Lions, San Diego Angels and Ontario Jr. Reign, noted she is back in her comfort zone.
“I had been working in the production world for a few years now, kind of always peeking over the fence at re-entering the hockey world, whether in coaching or management,” Pizzuto said. “I saw a post about HDC and was instantly curious. Ken and Kelly reached out to me the day I applied, which was exciting. After meeting with them and hearing about the center, their goals and the overall philosophy of HDC San Diego, I was hooked. I was honored when they offered me the hockey operations manager position and could not be more excited to be back working in hockey, my true love.
“HDC is designed to work with all ages, all genders. As long as they have the ability to skate on the skatemill, we can go as young the capability and the same goes for adult players. Our goal is ultimately to serve the community of players in San Diego that are looking to get to the next level, whether that be AAA, high school, college, pro, etc., but ultimately, we are designed to work with any player looking to grow as a hockey player and an athlete.”
Pizzuto added that hockey is her passion, and this new role with HDC San Diego just adds to her love of the game.
“I started playing roller hockey at the age of three and transitioned to ice hockey by eight years old,” said Pizzuto. “I played boys hockey until I was 13 and then moved over to girls playing AAA, prep hockey and NCAA Division III. I moved out west after college graduation and began working for the LA Kings in their hockey development department. I helped to build the LA Lions girls program, the LA Kings YMCA Ball Hockey League as well as grew my experience as a coach at all levels. I moved to San Diego and worked with the San Diego Angels as well as the Jr. Reign as their director of girls hockey. In June 2022, I traveled to Argentina with Team USA Roller to compete in the South American games, where we took home gold.
“In my current role, I will ensure the business side of HDC, helping to bring in players and customers, and providing them with top-notch experience and handling the overall day-to-day operations of the facility. I will work hand-in-hand with our head trainer to provide the ultimate ‘customer journey’ for everyone who steps into our facility. We hope to partner with all local San Diego rinks. We believe we can help them as much as they can help us.”
Baker explained that it’s very exciting to give hockey players in Southern California more options and to keep the growth of the game going on the West Coast.
“That’s exactly why HDC San Diego exists,” said Baker. “From in-house recreational players, to AAA-level travel players, to professional players, we offer proven and measurable methods to improve any player’s game. We don’t care what team or organization a player plays with – we serve the growth of the game. My heart is in SoCal and my appreciation for the game is deep. It is a dream to be part of something new that can generate more new players, and build more confidence in existing players. The hockey community is strong here, but it has much more room to grow.”
Growing up mostly in the San Diego area playing roller hockey, Baker said one prominent name and movie drew him in deeper.
“I was introduced to the game by the allure of Wayne Gretzky and the release of ‘The Mighty Ducks,'” Baker said. “I remember riding a bus each week to UTC for an introductory ice hockey clinic when I was about 13 years old, then playing in a couple in-house leagues later on. However, I never really played competitively until I was a walk-on goaltender in college at Sacramento State University. I moved back to SoCal in 2002 where I continued to play recreationally until I became a father in 2011. I eventually transitioned into coaching at the Kroc Center in La Mesa. I am now an assistant coach with the San Diego Saints, and I love every minute.”
Both Pizzuto and Baker have heightened expectations for this first season of HDC San Diego.
“I expect headwinds until organizations and players try out our methods and see the results,” said Baker. “While some players and teams are instantly excited, others are cautious, and I respect that. This first season is critical for our organization, and it is important that we exceed early players’ expectations so growth can take place in the business, and more importantly, the game. HDC San Diego is unlike any other training center in the Western United States.
“In order to be most effective, players will undergo one of or several diagnostic tests, designed to establish a baseline for each player. The Skating Analysis, for example, uses two video views to record a player’s skating technique and identify (through the combined use of AI and trainer interpretation) the precise areas of a player’s attributes to address. The other diagnostic involves general fitness levels, including balance, strength, reaction time, and more. When setting a baseline, goals become clear for the player and the trainers. The center is equipped to give one-on-one personal training, small groups, camps, and entire team diagnostic and training programs.”
Pizzuto is on board with Baker.
“In Year 1, we hope to establish ourselves as a positive presence and influence for the San Diego hockey community,” said Pizzuto. “We would love the opportunity to work with teams of all ages from all clubs to show how our technology can help to improve each individual player’s game, ultimately helping teams to improve as a whole. Ever since moving to California in 2016, I have been lucky enough to be a part of growing hockey on the West Coast. After a two-year hiatus, I could not be more thrilled to give back to the sport I love so passionately. I think there is so much opportunity for growth out here and to create a place for talented hockey players to stay.
“I believe HDC San Diego has something to offer any hockey player no matter age, size, and skill level, and I encourage all those interested in bettering themselves as a skater, player and overall athlete to come check us out.”
(Top photo – Skatemill)
— Matt Mackinder
(October 17, 2023)