Kansas City Ice Center prepares traveling teams

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SEPTEMBER 2015 – Just because you are not good enough today, cut from your team, does not mean you won’t make it tomorrow. Michael Jordan played on his high school junior varsity basketball team as a sophomore.

That’s what Dean Nelson and his colleagues with the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association (KCYHA) remind youngsters who tried out—unsuccessfully—for traveling teams for this fall and winter. With the merger of the youth hockey organizations from around the metro area, the traveling teams have all been combined and there are fewer spots to fill.

Some kids who would have made the traveling teams for their local rinks didn’t make the combined teams. Nelson, the general manager of the Kansas City Ice Center, notes that it’s not the end of the world for those kids.

“Just because you got cut from the Pee Wee travel team doesn’t mean you can’t make the team the next year,” Nelson said. “Development in hockey, like a lot of sports, happens a lot at age 14, 15 or 16. The kids who are the best at age 10 or 11 are not always best when they’re 14 or 15. They may not get better like the other kids.

“We encourage the kids to go back to their house leagues and work hard and have fun. We want them to play this great game of hockey and get better.”

kcicecenter.comSome kids—or more accurately, their parents—put too much stock into what level they are. Whether it’s 2-A or 3-A really doesn’t matter, if the kid is getting better and maximizing his or her skill against similar competition. For those who do care about the letters, Nelson has an idea.

“I made a joke with the kids,” he said. “I told them that we were going to start going to 7-A. Everyone is so concerned with how many A’s there are after their team or league. If we go to be 7-A, we’ll be three or four A’s above everyone else.

“There’s too much pressure and focus on what level the kids are playing. We all know that 99 percent of the kids are just doing it for the fun of the sport. If you’re lucky enough to be a part of that one percent, you’ll do it past high school.”

The KCYHA will have three teams at the Bantam (age 13-14) and Pee Wee (11-12) levels and two at the Squirt (9-10) level. The older leagues have 16 skaters plus two goalies on the roster, while the younger ones have 14. The top kids got placed on the top teams, with the next 14-16 kids on the next level, and so on.

The fewer number of spots on the traveling teams makes all levels stronger, both with the traveling teams and the house leagues.

The travel teams only comprise only ages 9-14, so the younger kids all participate in the house leagues. The U-8s are for kids 8-years old and younger. They are bracketed, meaning there are teams for beginners, intermediates and advanced players. “We also have our ‘Learn to Play Hockey’ program in conjunction with the ‘Learn to Skate’ program,” Nelson said. “So kids are coming in and learning the game so we can feed them into the youth programs.”

Once kids graduate from the Bantam division, they can try out for the Kansas City Jets, an elite team for high school kids. Those who don’t make those teams (varsity and junior varsity) can play on the Midgets house teams. The Jets have won their league title in two of the last three years, and things will only get better with a larger pool of players to draw from. And like the younger age groups, the Midget house leagues are much stronger with the combined forces.

There are also three divisions of adult leagues at the KCIC, as well as other participating rinks. The fall/winter schedule will begin in early October. Sign-ups are available at KCIceCenter.com.

“The C/D division is the novice division, the B league is for intermediates, and the Open division is for the advanced,” Nelson said. “The Open division comprises four teams of players who may have played advanced hockey and don’t want to give it up. Some of them take it a little too seriously, but it’s a great way to stay in shape and get some great competition.”

Nelson said about five percent of the participants in the adult leagues are women. The rules are very similar to Olympic hockey, where checking is prohibited. The occasional bump still happens, but purposeful checking is strictly taboo.

“We want to protect them,” Nelson said. “All those guys and girls who play adult hockey still have jobs to go to on Monday morning. A few of them take it too seriously, but we want to make sure we keep it friendly and fun, a pure sport. We have refs out there who police it pretty well.”

There is no senior league, and Nelson said most of the “youth challenged” players participate in the C/D league.

“We have a few older folks who play in the Open division, but most of them are in the C/D league,” Nelson said. “You can play hockey until a later age because there’s no checking. Once you get the love of the game in your system, it’s hard to lose it.”

Most Open division participants are former high school and even college players who can’t get the game out of their blood. Nelson believes that it’s because hockey is so fluid and continuous.

“It’s a totally different sport,” he said. “In baseball, you’re out in the field for five minutes and you have much less than a 50 percent chance to getting the ball hit to you. Then you go to the bench for at least five minutes. In football, if you’re on offense, you’re sitting there watching for 15 minutes while the defense is on the field.

“With hockey, you come out for 40 or 45 seconds and then you’re back on the ice. You have a chance to right whatever went wrong or another chance to make a great play. You’re actively involved in the game, for the whole game, whether your shift is coming up or your shift just ended and your coach is talking to you.”

Article by David Smale

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