KC Jets will form a third hockey team, creating a new option for U16 players

Youth hockey is in full swing at the Kansas City Ice Center. The KC Stars, KC Jets and travel teams are all forming for the upcoming season.

If you’re hoping to hang out with him this month with Dean Nelson, you will have to get to the Kansas City Ice Center. Nelson, the general manager at the KCIC, will be spending most of his time there.

“August is really when we get back into hockey season, starting with our Battle Camp, right into Training Camp, then travel tryouts and finally into the Jets tryouts,” Nelson said. “So between August 1 and September 1, I won’t eat or sleep or probably leave the rink much. It’s a lot of work, but when you’re doing something you love, there is no measure of hardship.

“If you’re looking for me in August, stop by the Kansas City Ice Center. You’ll either find me on the ice, on the Zamboni or doing something else with the young hockey players.

“We’ve gotten to this point by doing things the right way for many years here. When I first got here, I knew if I gave back to the kids, I wouldn’t have to worry about asking for anything, because it would all come full circle.”

Nelson has made an impact in his six years at KCIC. When he arrived they had two camps, and they were not full. This year, Battle Camp that concludes in August was the sixth week of hockey camp and all have been sold out. The participation numbers are at an all-time high as well for the travel teams.

The number of high school athletes has forced the Kansas City Jets to add a third team to the stable of varsity and junior varsity squads. Nelson is pretty excited about the new U-16 program.

“It’s an additional opportunity for kids in birth years 2001 and 2002,” he said. “Previously the Jets only had the varsity and junior varsity. There is a growing number of kids playing hockey now, especially in that age group. We needed to expand the teams, and the Jets staff felt it was best to have it under one roof. The Jets are at the highest competitive level in the Kansas City area, and the U-16 team will reflect that.”

While there may be players younger than 16 who have the skills to compete on the varsity level, is it a good idea to have them competing with kids two or three years older than they are?

The JV teams in the Midwest Hockey League could include kids in ninth through 12thgrade. Rosters are based strictly on skill level. Varsity and JV squads both could be playing against kids in a four-year age range. In that league, the best kids from each community will play on the varsity and the next group will make up the JV.

“It works out most of the time that the older kids will be better, but it’s not guaranteed,” Nelson said. “The kids on the U-16 team were born in 2001 or 2002. They might have turned 16 already, but they’ll be just barely 16. It’s for those players who want to stay within a year of their birth.

“The reason it makes a difference is that sometimes the younger kids with a higher skill level will not only be on the ice with physically more mature athletes, but they’ll be spending time off the ice with them. We might have our 14-year-olds playing against 18-year-olds. There’s a safety factor involved. Even though the skill levels may be comparable, the physical maturity is much different.

“The other thing to consider is whether parents want their 14- or 15-year-old child riding a bus for four hours with 18-year-olds. Every family is different, and we’ll support whatever they want to do. But if I had a 14-year-old son or daughter, I would want them playing with and traveling with 14-, 15- or 16-year-olds only. That kid would have his or her friends on the team, because they’re all pretty much the same age, rather than being that spread out. By the time they’re in 10th, 11thor 12thgrade it’s not as critical.”

The U-16 team will be coached by Mike Kempkiss, who had been the strength and conditioning coach for the Missouri Mavericks in the ECHL.

The third Jets team is just the latest indication of the impact of Nelson.

“We’ve been here long enough, and we’re now seeing the fruit of our labor paying off,” he said. “The reason we’re doing the U-16 team is because we see the numbers continuing to grow for the future. The kids born in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 will necessitate this team for years to come. We are seeing the big numbers getting even bigger because of growth at the earliest ages.”

The tryouts for the three Jets teams will be August 20-23. All the tryouts will be at the KCIC. Prior to those tryouts, the KCIC will host the first stage of tryouts for the Kansas City Mavericks travel program that is shared with Silverstein Ice Center Arena in Independence. The tryouts will start at the KCIC from August 18-20 afternoons. They’ll resume at Silverstein in the evenings.

The two weeks prior to the tryouts will be filled with hockey players getting into shape at the KCIC’s Training Camp.

“This is the second year we will have done Training Camp,” Nelson said. “Any player who signs up for tryouts for any of our travel teams (through U-14) can add $25 to their registration and take part in Training Camp. They’ll get three or four hours of good, hard on-ice workouts with our coaching staff. It will get them ready for their tryouts.

“We call it ‘getting their legs back under them.’ They need to get some hard skating in. They need to get their hand-eye coordination back. They need to get their shooting, their passing, their stick-handling back. A lot of kids are off the ice for the majority of the summer. Some are here for one or two camps or clinics, and some are here all the time. But they still sign up for Training Camp.

“They get to be out there with all the kids they’ll be competing against for those roster spots. You can see what your competition is like for the coming year. Your parents and family can see also. Almost all the kids who try out for our travel program will go through Training Camp to get back into hockey shape and to get ready for the tryouts.”

For more information on the Learn to Skate and Learn to Play Hockey Programs, public sessions, adult hockey, clinics and camps, parties, leagues and more, call 913-441-3033 or visit www.KCIceCenter.com.

For more youth sports coverage visit: http://kcsportspaper.com/category/youth-sports/

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Article by David Smale

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