It’s a short but scenic drive that links Boston’s Fenway Park with its fabled Green Monster to Falmouth, Mass., a tiny gateway town that greets visitors to Cape Cod.
It’s there that Falmouth’s favorite son Paul Moore has created his own monster, the type that flashes big toothy grins and unleashes the shrill of laughter that echoes across the ice surface at his state-of-the-art facility.
“We’re hooked on cross-ice hockey,” Moore laughs when he thinks about what is happening inside the Falmouth Ice Arena on any given weekend.
“The kids are having so much fun and the parents are going crazy behind the glass because of all the excitement and goals.”
When the architects of the American Development Model put pen to paper almost five years ago, it’s hard to know if even they could have imagined what is taking place on ice sheets across the country.
Based on the principles of more action, more puck touches and more fun, associations that have adopted the ADM are witnessing happier players and parents and thriving youth programs inside packed arenas in both traditional and non-traditional hockey markets across the country.
Some might even say that the results have been monstrous.
The Perfect-Sized Rink
When the Falmouth Ice Arena opened in June 2012, the facility set a standard for energy efficiency with solar panels, a heat recovery system that produces hot water, special insulation and a state-of-the-art refrigeration system.
But the innovations didn’t stop with energy-saving measures. In addition to housing an NHL-sized rink, the facility also included a mini-rink built specifically for cross-ice hockey.
“We were committed to the ADM and having an age-appropriate surface for our young kids to play on,” says Moore, the former president of the Falmouth Youth Hockey League and a driving force behind the facility’s construction. “And our [player] numbers are up at all levels.”
The organization’s Cape Cod X-Ice 3-on-3 Mite League has grown by more than 40 percent in its second year at the new facility on the mini-rink that measures 90 by 85 and includes benches, locker rooms and a scoreboard.
“Talk about creating a monster,” says Moore, who was awarded the 2012 Wm. Thayer Tutt Award as USA Hockey’s top volunteer. “It’s taken off because the kids are getting so many more puck touches and the action has been terrific.”
Moore grew up in Falmouth and played his youth hockey there before setting off on a short career in minor pro hockey. He later returned to his hometown and became involved in youth hockey programs.
“Every one of the kids is in the play all the time and the atmosphere at the games is unbelievable,” Moore boasts. “We just had 49 goals scored in a 50-minute Mite House cross-ice game and the parents loved it.”
Twelve communities have teams in the 8 & Under league that runs most of the day on Saturday and into the morning on Sunday. The arena has also hosted jamborees on the mini-rink at the 10, 12 and 14 & Under levels that have proved so popular that Moore is fielding calls from all over the state from associations that want to bring their players to Falmouth to play.
“Talk about creating a monster,” It’s taken off because the kids are getting so many more puck touches and the action has been terrific.”
— Paul Moore, Falmouth (Mass.) Youth Hockey
Boston Red Sox strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle is the parent of a Mite player and has witnessed firsthand the benefits of playing in the jamborees at the Falmouth mini-rink.
“We played cross-ice games there and our kids got better in just those three games,” said Boyle, who serves as strength and conditioning coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team preparing for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“We had kids that had previously only swatted at the puck or just pushed it around who were making plays. With cross-ice the kids are having fun and their skills are growing exponentially.”
Like other areas of the country Massachusetts has seen its share of players dropping out of the game.
“That won’t happen now,” Moore said. “There is no question with the ADM we are going to develop more and better players, and do it quicker.”
Several hours down the turnpike, in the shadow of the Nation’s Capital, the Kettler Capitals IcePlex in Arlington, Va., has been operating at maximum capacity since implementing the ADM three seasons ago.
“The ADM has made it so much more attractive for our players, coaches and parents,” says Beth Lenz, general manager of the two-sheet facility that also serves as the practice home of the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
“For the players, it is a fun, well-organized practice and they are moving all the time. The coaches are excited about what we are doing and there are so many resources for them to use now. And the feedback from our parents is they are pleased because their kids are participating in all aspects of the game and having fun.”
With 60 kids participating at both the 8 and 10 & Under levels, Lenz knows that having a good on-ice product has been critical to their success.
“USA Hockey has given us practice plans and has told us what we should be doing at each skill station on the ice,” Lenz says.
“We’re running programs that people want. The ADM has been a definite positive for everything we’ve done here.”
Changing The Model
After watching their players not improving, not having fun and ultimately leaving the game, Sno-King Hockey in Seattle, implemented ADM-style practices before the start of the 2009 season. It’s been a reversal of fortunes as the ranks of youth hockey players in this hub of the Pacific Northwest continues to swell.
“We don’t see those things now,” says Doug Kirton, Sno-King hockey director. “We decided to do the ADM and we’ve ripped the band aid off. We are committed to it because it works.”
Sno-King Hockey started this season with 540 registered players, an increase of over 200 kids from September 2010, and Kirton expected that number to reach 600 by the end of the year.
Most of that growth has come at the youngest age groups, which Sno-King leadership directly attributes to the efforts of their volunteers and implementation of the ADM.
“Our rinks are full of players and it’s because of what we are doing with the ADM,” Kirton says. “We didn’t do the ADM for the benefit of the rink owners, but it has been a good by-product. I think the rink guys really understand the benefit of it now.”
And while Kirton believes that you can’t always put your finger on why a player quits or stays, offering ADM-based programing has made Sno-King Hockey a better place to play.
“It is such a more dynamic sport now,” Kirton says. “Our players are more engaged and have more opportunities to battle for pucks. They need to have some successes and the small area games and playing cross-ice allows kids to get more involved in the game.
“And when you get them to love the game and have some success at a young age they won’t quit.”
Sharks Swimming Forward
With seven sheets of ice in three facilities booked from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year, Sharks Ice in San Jose, Calif., knows the importance of running youth hockey programs with good coaches and fun, skills-based practices and games.
“We’ve been running cross-ice for mini-Mites and Mites for 14 years and doing the ADM for the last several years and I couldn’t sell you an hour of ice right now,” admits Jon Gustafson, general manager of Sharks Ice, which owns and operates three arenas in the Bay Area, including a four-sheet facility in San Jose that is the practice facility of the NHL’s Sharks.
Several years after the Sharks started playing in the non-traditional hockey market in Northern California’s Bay Area, the team’s ownership realized the need to grow the sport to help ensure a fan base for years to come. Sharks Ice started with a two-sheet facility and has kept expanding.
“Because we were so challenged with ice availability, we had to put more kids on the ice and utilize our ice better,” says Gustafson. “We kind of stumbled onto using a lot of small area games and found out that it worked.”
Sharks Ice sold their programs to parents on the benefits of lots of on-ice action and high-level instruction.
In addition to nearly 600 kids in their in-house programs, Sharks Ice also started running 3-on-3 tournaments and worked ADM principles into their Squirt level offerings.
“We told the parents what we are doing and why it works,” Gustafson says. “There are a lot of things for kids recreationally, so you have to make it fun, make it interesting and have good coaches.
“And our retention has been fantastic.”
Philip Colvin is a freelance writer based out of Michigan who covers the American Development Model for USA Hockey.
Photos courtesy of Amy Baker; Zach Babo