When Greg Stornello was appointed hockey director for the Jaguar Hockey Club in Joliet, Ill., he had one major goal that can be summed up in two words: player development.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been more into player development instead of just getting teams into the building [at the Inwood Ice Arena],” said Stornello, who was appointed hockey director in 2010. “This organization has been around since 1979. The best way for kids to be successful is to give them the fundamentals. We hone in on the true aspect, which is player development.
“Our motto around here is: The Jaguars aren’t a place to play hockey. It’s a place to train to become a hockey player.”
Stornello knows of what he speaks, since he’s been involved with Illinois youth hockey for 30 years. But when he joined the JHC, the organization had only 150 youth players, including travel teams and learn-to-skate players. Today the JHC boasts 400 players over 13 teams that play in the Northwest Hockey League and the Northern Illinois Hockey League.
“When USA Hockey started the American Development Model, [JHC] had a learn-to-skate program, but no ADM,” Stornello said. “I embraced the ADM with a former club. When I came here I felt it was necessary to follow suit.
“I was proactive in the early stages, and I believe that helped us get players into the program. I wanted to create community-based hockey in Illinois, just like in Massachusetts. I truly believe that’s what helped get kids into our building. All of our kids are home-grown.”
That didn’t mean that everybody immediately embraced the ADM player-development mindset.
“I feel a lot of families who aren’t in the know, hockey-wise, get caught up in full-ice and don’t embrace playing in smaller areas,” Stornello said. “With a one-sheet facility, USA Hockey helped us get money to purchase dividers. We went from having 30 players on the ice to having 90 to 100 players.
“We divide the ice into as many as six to 10 stations, depending on the number of kids we have for that hour.”
Thirty families in particular needed convincing that cross-ice hockey was the best way to skate.
“I had to convince them that our program, even though it was cross-ice from Sept. 1 to Dec. 1, that mites must play cross-ice,” Stornello said. “Our top 30 8-and-under boys could have left to play elsewhere, but they stayed and remained true to our program.
“They had to believe in the fact that development was the key factor. We didn’t lose any 8-and-under players.”
Travel-team players on Monday nights are involved in skill training. Later in a given week, they do a segment of full-ice power skating and then break into five stations. Each small-area station involves something different for a period of 20 weeks.
With Stornello at the helm, the JHC 8U team has been recognized as a “Top Ten” team in Illinois for two of the last four years.
“For mites, the NIHL is the top-end travel league in Illinois,” he said. “If you make the top division, which is the Elite Bracket, they take the top eight teams.
“Within the last four years, we’ve had two teams play at the top level.”
Hence the “Top Ten” team recognition.
Because registrations for the JHC have expanded in recent years, the organization had to seek additional ice time. As a result, they’ve also used Canlan Ice Sports in Romeoville over the last four years.
“With the growth in the program, the only way to improve the kids’ skills is to be on the ice,” Stornello said. “You need laid-out programs and ice to accommodate them.
“People have their dos and don’ts regarding playing cross-ice or full-ice, but I truly believe, even with my oldest teams dating back five years ago, there’s benefits to small-area training at every level.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.