Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Hockey's Growing in Phoenix

After my trip to Phoenix a couple of years back, I had remarked that it seemed like an impossible battle to ever get hockey truly on the map in such a place. The lack of ice rinks, combined with the hot hot hot weather, long distance of travel to Glendale Arena (most fans are likely from Scottsdale, which is east of Phoenix, and Glendale is West of's an hour each way), and large Hispanic population (with absolutely no history/connection to the sport), is going to make hockey a tough sell in the desert.

Amazingly, it appears the Coyotes are making a dent among the youth ranks, and we know that getting kids hooked early is the key to developing hockey in any market.

From Matt Paulson of the East Valley Tribune:
At 10 a.m. on a Friday in late July, it is already 103 degrees in the Valley. Inside Tempe’s Oceanside Ice Arena, where it is a much more tolerable 60, nearly 40 kids in full hockey gear have packed the rink.

The youngsters, who range in age from 5 to 16, are not here to escape the sweltering heat or hang out with their friends. For them, Oceanside is a place where they can chase their dreams.

And when these kids dream, most dream of playing in the NHL.

The desert may seem like the last place you would expect to find the next generation of collegiate and professional hockey players developing. But the sport has established a solid foundation at the youth level since the Phoenix Coyotes moved to town 10 years ago. In that time, the number of participants and quality of players has increased dramatically, leading to some rather unexpected results.


There are thousands of others whose love for the sport was fueled by attending an NHL game.

When the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes following the 1995-96 season, there were only two youth leagues, two permanent sheets of ice, zero high school teams and, according to USA Hockey, fewer than 1,800 kids playing organized hockey in the Valley.

Since then those numbers have ballooned.

“Each and every year there is an increase of players at the youth level,” said Adam Keller, former general manager of the minor league Phoenix Roadrunners who has been the hockey director at Desert Schools Coyotes Center in Peoria for the past four years.

“Having an NHL team in this market or any market obviously will breed a tremendous amount of interest. . . . The exposure of National Hockey League players has a big impact on the kids playing hockey and certainly those who haven’t been playing.”

That’s how Berry, who began playing when he was 2, got started.

“When I was young, I would turn on the TV and it was usually a hockey game,” he said. “I got hooked after that I guess.”

The one thing I didn't see mentioned, and I think would make a world of difference, is the promotion of roller hockey and/or street hockey. There are still few rinks in the Phoenix area, and it's not really going to make sense to build more as many wouldn't turn a profit. The weather lends itself perfectly to roller hockey during the winter months, and is cheaper for kids to enter into.

The Desert Schools complex in nearby Peoria is a lot like the Canes Rec Zone facility only state-of-the-art. Huge plexiglass wall behind the endboards and lots of bleacher space. It's right in the middle of the affluent and grwoing Arrowhead community just north of the Glendale arena. I stopped by there in mid-July, and saw a pretty good adult league game going on during the lunch hour.
No don't about it...if can expose hockey to youth, they'll love the game.

No other game can match the speed, intensity, and skill. Hockey's the whole package, what's not to like.

All the best!
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