KC Ice Center offers many ways for players to grow hockey skills

KC Ice Center Camps

APRIL 2016 – Five years ago, Dean Nelson took a couple of KC Ice Center teams to the International Cup in Blaine, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb. The International Cup is a group of age-specific tournaments played at an eight-rink facility, with some top teams from all around the Midwest.

Nelson’s teams got smoked.

Last year, Nelson again took two teams to the International Cup. One team reached their age-group final. The other one went 1-1-2. That just shows how far hockey has come in Kansas City in the past five years, mostly under Nelson’s leadership.

“The teaching and the way we do hockey around here has been good,” said Nelson, the general manager of the Kansas City Ice Center. “The other teams used to think, ‘Kansas City will be (an) easy (opponent). They don’t have much hockey there.’

“Now, we are more competitive with the same level of teams that used to dominate us. The kids are enjoying it more than they did going six hours to be beaten soundly. It’s a super environment and the kids love it. We’ll try to take as many teams as we can and just try to put Kansas City hockey on the map. With what’s going on in the area now, it’s going to do nothing but get better.”

There are many ways to celebrate the continual hockey growth in KC and at the Kansas City Ice Center besides the competitiveness of the traveling teams.

For one, involvement continues to go up. Take camps, for example.

The first summer after Nelson arrived at the KC Ice Center (2011), the facility had two camps with 23 kids at each. Last summer, there were five camps and clinics and nearly 400 kids participated. Nelson is quick to point out that there may not be 400 different kids, because some kids enjoyed it so much that they came to multiple camps.

kcicecenter.comNelson gives a lot of the credit to his staff and the numerous volunteers who coach and run the various programs.

“If you’re going to look for hockey training in the Kansas City area, the Kansas City Ice Center and the Stars program, along with the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association where it’s headed, is the place you want to be. We have certified on-ice and off-ice training, as well as the camps and clinics that run in the summer. It’s all top-notch.”

The KC Ice Center is becoming known for is the training creativity.

One example is the 4-on-4 program that is going on now. It started about three years ago as a way to break the monotony of regular competition. The KC Ice Center doubled the number of participants from one year to the next, just with that switch. And the numbers have stayed high. This year, other KCYHA rinks are doing the 4-on-4 format, and their numbers are up too.

The rules are slightly different. There is no icing, and really no stoppages, so the action is end-to-end with no breaks except the buzzer every minute to change shifts.

“It lets them free up their game, without being coached so much,” he said. “It’s been hugely successful again, with more than 200 kids enrolled at all levels. It’s more about skill development. The kids don’t realize that they’re developing their skills, but they are. It’s a good teaching method, to give the kids more time with the puck.”

The other big difference is they don’t put the score on the scoreboard. It is really pick-up hockey.

“It’s been a very successful program,” Nelson said. “That really is because it’s rec hockey, pick-up hockey, which is all about having fun.”

Getting better certainly is fun, but it’s also hard work. Nelson and his team are serious about helping the kids get better if they want to.

Beginning in April there is a weekly training program for kids who want to move up a competitive level. Mostly that will involve kids who participated on the club select teams who want to make the traveling teams this fall.

“You might see a few of the top kids here if they’re not involved in other sports,” Nelson said. “But mostly you’ll have the kids that played house select hockey last year who want to get to the travel level. It depends on their involvement in other sports. We’re still the fifth sport.

“It’s individual skills development with some team concepts. It’s high-energy, high-level practices. We also add in a full dry-land training with Doug Dorley, a former NFL player. His kid plays hockey here, so he helps us. The kids learn the importance of off-ice training as they get older and want to get stronger.

“Dry-land training is sprints, agility, ladders, leaps, stick-handling and shooting. Everything we can do on our outdoor sport-court, we do in station setups. The shooting involves weighted pucks and weighted sticks. They like it because it’s different. With the roof, we can still do the training outside.”

Dry-land training is also a big part of camps and clinics Nelson runs during the summers. The clinics are two hours on the ice and one hour off the ice for five days. The first one starts in late June this year, a couple of weeks earlier than in the past.

“Some people are already planning on what they’re going to do in the summer,” Nelson said. “We have Power Skating June 20-24, and Shooting is the next week.”

After July 4, there will be a U-8 New Player Clinic in the middle of July, and the Five Skills Clinic. The final camp is the fifth annual Battle Camp August 1-5. It’s an all-day camp.

Another new entry on the KC Ice Center schedule is training camp August 8-18. It’s a nightly practice to help the kids get ready for tryouts. It’s on- and off-ice again. The kids who really want to be ready to try out for the travel teams should sign up for training camp to get prepared.

The entire camp schedule is online at www.kcicecenter.com. To register, email Dean at dnelson@kcicecenter.com, (rather than following an online link).

The KC Ice Center keeps expanding its programs because of Nelson’s hockey passion. He grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, where nearly every kid plays hockey. It’s in his blood, and he wants to share that passion with every kid he can reach. And he sees his efforts starting to pay off.

“It’s like kids who are into baseball going out and throwing a ball around the backyard,” he said. “Kids who want to play hockey call me to see if we have any old nets that we aren’t using anymore. They ask for a piece of glass or a hockey board that they can shoot off. We give those away. Anything the kids need to get started, if we have it here, we help them. We know we have to help people understand what it takes to train and get ready.

“I’ve never been a part of a place where the rink helps the kids get involved. That’s one of the things that is neat about the KC Ice Center. The kids feel like it’s their home rink.”

What that means is in a few years, maybe sooner than anyone expects, a KC Ice Center team will leave the International Cup with the championship.

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