SDIA a proven winner down south
They come in droves to the unassuming rectangular building tucked among a sea of tract homes, schools and retail establishments along one of suburban San Diego’s busiest corridors: minivans, SUVs and other vehicles packed full of kids and their hockey gear.
The doors open and out spill multiple siblings of different ages, or friends and neighbors who have become like siblings through connections built on hockey.
At the San Diego Ice Arena (SDIA), a family environment is stressed above all else, and for the Oilers and their eight Southern California Hockey Association (SCAHA) teams, that approach is proving to be quite successful.
“The way I look at it is that we build a family environment with a lot of good hockey coaches and a lot of good families, and doing that helps us create winning hockey teams,” said Craig Sterling, SDIA’s hockey director for the last eight years.
“We strive to win, but our philosophy is not that winning is everything; our values are family first, and we win because the players trust each other, the families like each other and there’s no unnecessary drama in our club. In the end, that helps our kids focus on winning games, trophies and banners.”
Early in the 2014-15 season, the philosophy appears to be paying dividends for SDIA.
Through the end of November, most of the Oilers’ teams were at or near the top of their divisions in SCAHA play. The Midget 16A squad was 6-1 and second in its division. The Bantam AA group was sixth of 14 teams in its division at 4-1. One of the program’s two Pee Wee A clubs was a perfect 7-0, and it also had a Pee Wee B team at 7-1. Even at the Squirt level, the Oilers had a BB team that was 7-1 and in third place among 18 squads in its division.
On top of that, the program had a number of teams put forth impressive efforts in tournaments held over Thanksgiving Weekend. The Midget 16A and Bantam AA teams won their divisions at the Orange County tournament, while the Oilers also won Pee Wee and Mite divisions at the Wildcats tournament in Riverside. At a tournament in Phoenix, SDIA had teams win their divisions at the Pee Wee A and Pee Wee B levels.
“We’ve been pretty successful so far this season,” Sterling said. “We train the kids a lot, but we don’t push so much hockey on them that they don’t want to come to the rink.”
Sterling, a native of Winnipeg, said San Diego is a unique area in which to run a youth hockey program because so many of the families come to the Oilers club with no background in hockey.
Kids often come to the arena for an ice skating birthday party and decide to give hockey a try. They start as Mites, and stick with the Oilers through the Midget level, because the sport opens their eyes to new possibilities and they come to love a game they may not have ever even considered.
“The families get involved, and they just keep playing,” Sterling said. “The kids don’t leave; when they’re not on the ice, they’re working at the rink.
“All of our coaches are involved with hockey because they love the game. They respect the game and they like being around the game, and I think that shows in how our kids are treated and the experience they have as Oilers players.”
Sterling and his staff make sure to do everything they can to create a family atmosphere, whether it’s at the rink or when their teams are on the road for league games and tournaments.
“If you have a good foundation of family, and you let everyone be a part of the family, they’ll want to play hockey with us for as long as they can,” he said.
“And then a lot of them even end up playing with us in adult leagues. A lot of these kids and their families feel a real sense of ownership with this rink. We try to make them feel that way.”
– Greg Ball