When Jim Clare and Annie Camins got together to discuss what their sport was missing, they hatched a brilliant idea to deliver the benefits of small-ice hockey to older youth players.
Clare, the American Development Model coordinator for Amateur Hockey Association Illinois, and Camins, the Chicago Blackhawks director of youth hockey, developed the idea of a Chicago Cross-Ice Hockey Classic.
“At the time, we only had 8U kids playing cross-ice,” Clare said. “And the initial event was geared toward promoting cross-ice hockey for 8U boys and girls at the United Center. Years 2 and 3 of the event were for girls only.
“This year , we didn’t have access to the United Center, so we held a smaller event at the Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodbridge, with girls encompassing a total of 10 teams,” Clare said. “The twist was that it was a half-ice tournament for 10Us and 12Us.”
The event proved to be a success, with champions’ honors going to Sabres 1 (10U division) and the Vipers (12U division).
Vipers coach John Brama felt the event was extremely beneficial for his team.
“I think the girls’ best experience was being able to play at their age level,” he said. “Skill-wise, being able to play at their own age level opens up the game for them because they’re not chasing older girls with more experience.
“And playing cross-ice made it a fast-paced game.”
AHAI was looking for a way to grow and promote girls’ hockey, which was why the association opted to hold another all-girls event.
“It’s more beneficial and fun as an all-girls event,” he said. “It’s an event that we can gear toward things girls enjoy — not only on-ice activities but also off the ice, with things like face painting and hockey sock hats.
“The reaction was awesome. The fun they have is being in that environment where it’s 125 girls in the rink and they own the place. They have music they like and are dancing on the bench between shifts.”
At its core, the cross-ice classic was nothing less than a celebration of girls’ hockey. And as far as Clare was concerned, winning a division title was less important than providing the girls an opportunity to spend time with their female teammates.
“It’s something they don’t get every day,” Clare said. “It’s very attractive to the girls and their coaches. They don’t always get to play in an all-girls event.
“That’s why we put it together again this year. We want to promote girls hockey, which has been the driving force the last two years.”
Camins and the Blackhawks added pizzaz by donating Blackhawks swag to each participant as well as a Blackhawks Winter Classic hat to each of the division winners.
“From the Blackhawks standpoint, the more kids they can get involved at a young age, the more they grow the game,” Clare said. “In addition, the NHL supports the ADM. More American players in the NHL drives more interest from the public, and the ADM helps develop players.”
By focusing on skill development early, AHAI and the Blackhawks are able to develop hockey players – and fans – for life.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Clare said.
As Clare noted, because most 10U and 12U girls play in full-ice leagues, they lack opportunities to complement their development with the benefits of playing small-ice hockey.
“Putting them in a scenario where they get to play small-ice games provides added development opportunities, because they’re touching the puck more, building contact confidence and working on quick acceleration,” said Clare. “Plus, the goalies are getting to stop more shots and be more engaged.
“Everything we’re trying to teach for high-level play comes to fruition in a half-ice situation.”
In Brama’s opinion the benefits of this type of event can be summed up in one word: intimate.
“You work better together as a small group,” he said. “With the small groups and the size of the event, they were able to play more games than if they were playing full-ice games. They have more time to do more in a small-group setting.”
To say the girls who participated in the on- and off-ice events were excited would be an understatement.
“There were smiles from ear to ear,” Brama said. “I didn’t tell the girls they were getting a swag bag. They were surprised. Having those things enabled the girls to bond more off the ice.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.