Future is bright for youth hockey at Kansas City Ice Center

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JULY 2015– Four years ago, Dean Nelson came to Kansas City from Rochester, Minn., to be the assistant manager of the Kansas City Ice Center. From one hockey hotbed to another, right?

Not so much.

But in four years, Nelson has changed the way hockey is viewed, especially by the youth in the area, nearly doubling the number of kids involved in the game in Johnson County.

“I think we’ve exceeded our expectations,” he said. “I don’t think I could have expected that we’d be growing this fast and going this strong four years ago. A year or two ago, we were number two in the country in participants in the ‘Try Hockey For Free’ program, behind only Rochester, Minn. We have several developmental programs for young kids that are growing our base.

“When I got here, I had no idea. I just knew I wanted to help the game of hockey in this part of Kansas City, as well as run a quality hockey organization to give the hockey players a place to call home. I don’t think our goals are accomplished, but we’re making progress. We’re striving to achieve more goals.”

Things were not running smoothly when Nelson arrived. The Pepsi Ice Center had shut down in the months prior to his arrival, and there was general upheaval among hockey enthusiasts.

“Kids dropped out because we were too far away from their home,” he said. “At that time, I didn’t really know the trickle-down effect or how long it would take to rebound. All I knew was there was a lot of untapped energy and a large potential base of people to get involved. We had about 350 skaters involved in all levels of competition.

“I knew if I worked on growing interest with the young kids, the foundation would grow, and the numbers would grow. Also, our skill level would grow, which would bring more interest. Now, four years later, we’ve done a ton, but there’s still a large amount of growth possible. It all comes from a real passion I have for the game of hockey. I love teaching it and passing along that passion.”

That growth really comes from development at all levels, ranging from those just wanting to learn to skate to the few hockey enthusiasts who were already here. Camps and clinics are way up, with six camps and clinics and about 400 kids, instead of two camps with 120 kids when Nelson arrived.

kcicecenter.comThis summer marks the first time there have been more than four camps/clinics in one summer. The Five Skills Clinic and the New Player Camp are the additions to this summer’s schedule.

“We had a Five Skills camp a couple of years ago, but it was an all-day camp,” Nelson said. “We decided to bring it back in the clinic format, which is just in the afternoon, with two hours on the ice and one hour off. We cover the basics, because all the kids need the basics, all the way up through high school and college. If you look at the good teams and the good players, they’re still working on fundamentals.”

That’s one unique thing to KCIC camps and clinics. There is no ambiguity.

“When people sign up for one of our events, they know what we’re going to be working on,” Nelson said. “You hear people say, ‘We’re having a hockey camp,’ but you don’t know what you’re going to get. When you sign up for a camp or clinic at the KC Ice Center, you know exactly what you’re going to get.

“If you sign up for power skating, that’s what you’re going to get. With that camp, you will be midway through the camp before you ever even see a net or a puck. It’s all about skating. If you come back the next week for the Sniper Shooting Clinic, it’s every kind of shot, so you really know what you’re going to work on.

“We wrap up the clinic schedule with Five Skills, which is the only one that has more than one focus, and that helps every level of player with the fundamentals. We conclude the summer session with the New Player Clinic the second week of August.”

While registration is officially closed, there usually is room for one or two more skaters. Nelson said if you’re interested in signing up your young hockey player for one of the clinics or camp, email him at dnelson@kcicecenter.com or call the Kansas City Ice Center at 913- 441-3033. He’ll see if he can find a space.

Nelson said the focus on fundamentals is critical, not just for youth learning the basics of the game. The game of hockey is a series of small bursts of action. It’s stopping, starting and seeing how quickly you can get to one point, then turning around and going the other direction. Knowing, and enhancing, the fundamentals is the key to success.

Focusing on the various skills, through camps and clinics, will take the beginner and turn him into a competent hockey player, and take the competent player and turn him into a star. Or in the case of the Kansas City Ice Center, a Kansas City Star, which is the traveling high school team.

Nelson said he is firmly entrenched in Kansas City, that the lure of fertile fields of unpicked hockey blossoms does not intrigue him enough to head back north.

“I came as an assistant manager and coach of a team,” he said. “A couple of years later I became the co-hockey director of the Kansas City Stars. And now I’m the hockey director of the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association, which is the governing body of youth hockey in all of Kansas City. One thing leads to another. The future is bright for me here. How long is anybody’s guess, but my feet are solidly on the ground here, especially with the merger of the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association. I couldn’t be happier here.

“I still wear my Twins hat whenever I go to a game at Kauffman Stadium. I’m a Twins fan at heart, and a Vikings fan and a Wild fan. But I love the Royals as a team.”

As he said, there’s still work to do.

Call 913-441-3033 or visit KCIceCenter.com for more information on the Learn to Skate and Learn to Play Hockey Programs available at KCIC and to get more information on tryouts and registration for the upcoming 2015-16 hockey season.
Article by David Smale

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