Big ‘D’ In Dallas

Stars’ Innovative Weekend Shows That Development And Fun Aren’t Just For Little Kids

Apart from the Silver Boot trophy hoisted by the winning team, this was clearly no ordinary hockey tournament.

For one thing, the championship celebration didn’t take place in its typical spot at center ice. That space was occupied by portable boards that cut the Dallas Stars’ practice rink at Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas, into two equal halves.

Another striking difference was how all the players congregated on the ice afterwards, laughing and smiling together as one big group. That's because the three 16U Midget Minor teams that participated in the tournament – the local Texas Warriors, the Peoria (Ill.) Jr. Rivermen and the Tulsa (Okla.) Jr. Oilers – were shuffled into four 3-on-3 squads for the weekend, and they were now all friends.

The Dallas Stars Development Weekend also featured high performance, and competitive skill-based practices led by former 15-year NHL player Bob Bassen and a number of high-level coaches.

And players and coaches also had the opportunity to attend a Stars practice and watch them take on the Colorado Avalanche.

 

By just about every measure imaginable, the innovative venture was a rousing success.

“It’s really been a great experience,” said Jr. Oilers Assistant Coach Paul Guthrie. “The energy level was super high, and you can just tell that over the course of the weekend kids were getting more confident with the puck, playing hard and starting to find their own game, and starting to be more confident. And the kids made really good friends with the other players.”

“I think they’ll remember this the rest of their life,” added Shawn Taylor, whose son, Connor, plays for the Jr. Rivermen. “It’s one of the coolest experiences. It’s been a lot about how you play the game, instead of what the results are. With all the puck touches they get, and the goalies get a lot of shots, it’s a lot of hockey for 40 minutes. And the kids love it.”

The event was the brainchild of the Dallas Stars’ “Xtreme Team” group, consisting of Bassen, who is also the Stars’ alumni director, along with former NAHL and ECHL coach Dwight Mullins, and local youth hockey pioneer Jouni Lehtola.

The Dallas Stars Development Weekend featured a number of high-level coaches, including 15-year NHL veteran Bob Bassen.The Dallas Stars Development Weekend featured a number of high-level coaches, including 15-year NHL veteran Bob Bassen.

It's part of the Stars' on-going campaign to promote age-appropriate skill development and individual athletic growth throughout Texas and into surrounding areas of the Southwest. They believe that these half-ice 3-on-3 tournaments will further that goal, while adding a new social aspect that builds on the premise of respecting your opponent and improving the entire person.

“We’re learning more and more about what types of environments help players get the best type of development, and it really allows you to be creative in playing the game in different ways,” said Mullins, who returned to Dallas last year after spending six seasons coaching in the ECHL and CHL.

“Playing with different kids from different areas and different teams, there’s a little bit of a social factor that sometimes gets lost. So we’ve combined that with the fact that a player can not only hone their skills, but display their skills in a 3-on-3 setting, much like what we’re seeing at the NHL level.”

Blending the three visiting teams into the four 3-on-3 squads was a unique idea that changed the focus away from the win-at-all-costs mentality that is all too prevalent in youth sports these days.

“It doesn’t take the competitiveness away, but I think it takes away the one team coming in here and keeping to themselves and trying to win the tournament,” said Bassen, who noted that the idea originated with his brother Mark, who coaches the Jr. Rivermen.

“It united all the kids to be more of a camp where we ran it together instead of three different teams, and I think it’s a nice aspect of it. We haven’t seen a team go here and a team go there, it’s been a big group.”

That camaraderie also spilled over into the coaches' room as coaches shared ideas and collaborated on practice plans by trading some of their favorite drills.

In fact, the togetherness began even before the visiting teams arrived in Dallas. The Rivermen first drove eight hours overnight from Peoria to Tulsa, where the Jr. Oilers then boarded their bus and traveled with them the rest of the way.

“It was being on the bus with them, talking, doing karaoke with them,” recounted Tulsa player Jake Giove. “It was way more fun than just riding with ourselves. We got to meet new people, make new friends. It’s been a great experience.”

And while the half-ice format, as well as playing 3-on-3, is usually more often a tactic utilized with younger kids, implementing it for the bigger and older players helped foster additional skill development by making more plays and scoring more goals.

“The cross-ice, close-proximity play, it translates to full-ice so much,” noted Taylor, who also coaches a high school team in Peoria. “With 3-on-3, all the kids are touching the puck and always moving. It’s so fast, it’s back and forth. You don’t have a chance to cruise and get lazy or to disappear on the ice, because the play is right there. You have to be engaged the whole time.”

And having the opportunity to hear from former NHL players like Bassen and Stars' General Manager Jim Nill was also a valuable experience for each of the kids.

The Dallas Stars Development Weekend featured some great one-on-one instruction as well as spirited competition.The Dallas Stars Development Weekend featured some great one-on-one instruction as well as spirited competition.

“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Guthrie said. “They have a wealth of hockey knowledge, and that’s great for the boys. It gives them a little perspective about what it’s going to take to make it, not only in hockey but in life.”

The weekend may have been a little unconventional, but based on the results, it’s safe to say there will be more events like it in the future.

“I think we exceeded our expectations,” Bassen said. “We had an idea of what it would be like, but from what we’ve seen and all the feedback, everybody’s had such a good time. It’s just different from a normal tournament.”

John Tranchina is a freelance writer from Tulsa, Okla.
Issue: 
2016-04

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