Vikings youth hockey program booming in Orland Park: Blackhawk championships, Olympic silver medal for women build enthusiasm for youth hockey
By Jeff Vorva, Special to the Tribune
When the Blackhawks raise the Stanley Cup, there is a rise in interest for area youth hockey teams.
A couple of Blackhawks Stanley Cup championships in recent years have turned hockey in the Chicago area from a yawner to something worth shouting about.
Fans are excited to climb on the Hawks’ bandwagon. Kids want to become the next Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews.
That means better business for an organization such as the Orland Park-based Vikings Youth Hockey program, which makes its home at the Arctic Ice Arena.
Vikings board member John Shapiro got involved as a coach right at the start of Blackhawks-mania. For many years prior to that, the Blackhawks were an afterthought behind the Bears, Cubs and White Sox and Bulls.
Thus, the expensive sport of youth hockey also had so-so numbers but that changed quickly.
“My son’s first year with the Vikings was 2010 when the Hawks won the Stanley Cup,” Shapiro said. “It’s been great. Having them do so well these past years has been great for all the clubs in the area.
“We don’t see it right away. The big move comes in the Learn to Skate and Intro to Hockey programs. We see it at the 11-12 age groups. Most of the clubs in the area are probably up maybe 20 or 30 percent. It’s a big boom.”
Shapiro said the group now has 203 skaters from ages 6 to 17.
If the Blackhawks’ success didn’t ratchet up interest enough, the success of Sandburg graduate Kendall Coyne and the United States women’s hockey team’s silver medal performance in the Olympics also helped boost the sport’s popularity with the younger skaters.
Before Coyne’s athletic heroics in February and the many guest appearance she made in March, Vikings organizers were planning on bringing back a girls program. Shapiro said a plan was in the works for a 14U team next season and hopes Coyne’s success will lead to more interest on the girls side.
In late January, Vikings Hockey Director Nick Pollos announced the plan for the new team with veteran coach Keith Mizwicki running the show.
“I couldn’t be happier to have Keith re-join the Vikings coaching staff,” Pollos said in a news statement. “He is a tremendous instructor, communicator, teacher and coach. Keith sees the big picture of hockey development and fits in perfectly to what we are striving for.”