By Scott Burfoot, Rockford Park District Hockey Program Manager, Don Walker, Rockford Park District Hockey Director and Laura Gibbs-Green, Rockford Park District Public Relations Manager
Rockford is known for being a hockey town, but what’s happening on ice is only half of the reason why the sport is gaining in popularity! In this Midwest town, the lifelong love for hockey often begins for many by participating in the Rockford Park District’s youth hockey program through either the Learn to Skate classes or the District’s recreational hockey league. When players progress in their skill levels, they typically join the Rockford Hockey Club for more game and practice experience prior to trying out for the Rockford Icemen hockey team. This progression represents the strong relationships the Rockford Park District, Rockford Hockey Club, and Rockford Icemen have in developing youth hockey players.
The growing interest in the sport in the Rockford area is also largely due to the Rockford IceHogs, a professional ice hockey team that plays in the American Hockey League, who introduced the Rock River Valley to professional hockey in 1999. In an effort to help the growth of youth hockey in Illinois, the Rockford IceHogs announced a partnership with the Rockford Park District on August 20, 2003, to form the Junior IceHogs Youth Hockey Program. IceHogs players and coaches often make appearances at sessions of the various levels of the Junior IceHogs practices to work with kids and assist with practice, sign autographs, and take pictures. On top of playing in the American Hockey League, the IceHogs signed a 10-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks on March 19, 2007. Overall, 61 different IceHogs skaters have appeared in the NHL, including 48 with the Blackhawks. Due to the Rockford IceHogs being affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks, the interaction has meant even more to the youth participants since they often see their hockey mentor on a national level.
In May 2009, the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners approved a $140,000 contract to convert a vacant building in downtown Rockford into an off-ice training facility for the Junior IceHogs. “At that point, we were already running a Junior IceHogs summer off-ice hockey program for five years. The new building allowed us to expand the program year-round,” said Scott Burfoot, Rockford Park District Hockey Program Manager.
At the Junior IceHogs Training Facility, guests can utilize shooting lanes, stickhandling stations, and workout equipment, including weights, treadmills and elliptical machines.
- 5,853-foot facility
- Workout equipment with weights, treadmills, and elliptical machines
- Exercise zone
- Shooting and passing lanes
- RapidShot Hockey Training System
- Parent waiting area with free wi-fi
RapidShot Hockey Training System – Only one in Illinois
In addition to the hockey-related exercise stations, the training facility features the RapidShot Hockey Training System, which is the only one of its kind in Illinois. The patented interactive computer system helps improve hockey shooting by requiring the shooter to receive real puck passes and shoot over a series of 16 shots in less than two minutes. Here’s how it works: you stand at a distance from the net that measures just above the hash marks and receive passes from the RapidShot passing machine. Before the puck comes your way, one of the four corners of the net will light up as the target. As soon as the puck hits the target, your reaction time, puck speed and accuracy are measured and immediately displayed on the overhead monitor. The pucks are automatically collected by the machine, allowing you to fire one puck after another, up to 800 per hour. Each shooting lane is equipped with a bar code reader and when a card is swiped through the reader, the RapidShot computer is activated. Participants can select various levels and view a report on an internet, which summarizes their performance. Rankings recorded can be uploaded to www.rapidshot.com and players can visit the web site at any time to view their standings and scores.
The project was funded, in part through a $63,000 donation (over five years) from the Rockford IceHogs Charitable Foundation. In addition, the facility’s exercise equipment was donated by several local businesses and organizations.
“The partnership between the Rockford Park District and Rockford Hockey Club has been an integral part of the success of Rockford Hockey Club. The Junior IceHogs Training Facility run by the Rockford Park District has allowed the club to conduct hockey specific dry land training tailored to each age level. In addition, the Rapid Shot machine has provided unlimited shooting practice for all players in the club,” said John Menzies, Former President of Rockford Hockey Club. “Being able to focus on additional skill development at a young age is allows the coaching staff to be able to concentrate on other on-ice areas of skill development during practice. After being in use over the past five seasons, we are now seeing the positive impact of the off-ice facility on our PeeWee and Squirt levels. The facility is an invaluable part of our program,” said Menzies.
Since opening the facility, the Junior IceHogs program as well as the Rockford Park District’s entire hockey program has seen tremendous growth in participants, which also means added revenue. “We keep adding more, doubling if not tripling the attendance numbers from 2009. Since then, we’ve added new spring travel teams, more leagues and our camps are full. The off-ice training facility has had a ripple effect for more than just the Park District, as the Rockford Hockey Club has gone from seven teams to ten traveling teams from Mites to Bantams,” said Don Walker, Rockford Park District Hockey Director.
The success of the hockey program isn’t just something that happened overnight but it was something that wouldn’t have happened with creating lasting partnerships. By supporting the efforts of these recreation and leisure providing partners we can work together to ensure that we don’t compete with them and let them do what they do “best.” Remember, what happens on ice counts but what happens off ice really does matter more in Rockford.
Categories: Hockey Headlines