DAHA hockey tryouts: No parents wanted

Pee Wee A and Bantam A youth hockey tryouts were held at Fryberger and Peterson arenas this week. But parents weren't invited. "We're trying something new to help take pressure off the kids and keep the heat off the independent evaluators," Dulut...

Pee Wee A and Bantam A youth hockey tryouts were held at Fryberger and Peterson arenas this week. But parents weren't invited.

"We're trying something new to help take pressure off the kids and keep the heat off the independent evaluators," Duluth Amateur Hockey Association (DAHA) Executive Director Clarke Coole said. "The majority of the people think it's a good policy."

Without parents hanging over the boards and possibly side-coaching after they leave the rink, players seemed to be more comfortable in the tryouts, DAHA board member Pete Seeling said.

"Kids need the freedom to be the best at what they do," Seeling said. "It's a fair system and everyone has a shot."

Players of ages 11 to 15 competed for spots on East End and Lakers traveling teams, and worked out for five days under the watchful eyes of coaches and paid independent evaluators. DAHA has gone with independent evaluators each of the last three years to eliminate perception that coaches can be persuaded, Coole said.


Goaltender evaluator John McEwen, who was raised in Morgan Park and played goalie at Duluth Denfeld (1988) and St. Scholastica, called the evaluation system fair and thorough.

"The best part about this evaluation system is the players all have numbers and you don't know any of the players' names," McEwen said. "So it gives evaluators an unbiased view to judge people just by their talent." Evaluators worked off a DAHA-developed evaluation sheet and compared notes with coaches daily.

McEwen focused exclusively on goaltenders.

"The goalies today are bigger and better that we were when we were Pee Wees, and the equipment is much better," McEwen said. "And the players, at all positions, seem to be more relaxed. It's good." Per DAHA policy, players received sealed letters following Thursday's final workout indicating which team they'll play for this season. East End and Lakers will sponsor three Bantam (age 13 to 15) and five Pee Wee (11-13) teams apiece.

"We have 80-plus players trying out, and teams usually keep 15 skaters and two goalies," Lakers Pee Wee A coach Kyosti Lindgren said. "We're looking for skating skills and desire. Trimming the team down from the final 25 players can be tough. Some players open the letter as soon as they leave the area, but some wait until they get home."

Traveling team head coaches are Gary Bordson (Lakers Bantam A), Christian Koelling (East End Pee Wee A) and Steve Pitoscia (East End Bantam A) and Lindgren.

DAHA league play begins Nov. 11 for Pee Wees and Bantams. Squirt (9-11) tryouts begin Saturday, with league play to begin Nov. 16. Mini-Mites (7-and-under) and Mites (8-9) leagues will begin in late November.

DAHA has also developed recreational leagues for players who enjoy the sport, but prefer to practice less and play fewer games. Last year, about 140 youth s competed in the recreation program, Coole said.


"Our Rink Rat program is kindergarten through fifth-grade, and we also operate a recreational program for youths in grades six through nine," Coole said. "The teams play one night a week, the Rink Rates on Friday nights at Glen Avon and the Rec league on Sunday nights at three area rinks: Woodland, Irving and Lower Chester."

Over 1,000 youths compete in DAHA-sponsored leagues. "We registered 153 new players this year, which we attribute to our marketing promotion on television and radio," said Coole, who's in his seventh year with DAHA. "Our numbers overall, for both the boy's and girl's leagues, are about on par with last year."

The Duluth Girl's Hockey Association is part of DAHA, although it has its own n board of director and bylaws.

"Girls teams compete in 12-and-under and 15-and-under leagues, but a lot of girls do opt to compete against the boys at the youngest levels," Coole said .

AHA, which is directed by a 16-member board represented by four members apiece from East, Denfeld, Central and At-Large, operates on a $300,000 annual budget. Jim Olcott serves as board president.

Hockey has a well-earned reputation as an expensive sport. But DAHA has worked hard to keep costs down, Coole said, and has made a commitment to hold d the line on rental rates at city-owned Fryberger and Peterson, which it operates on behalf of the city.

"Our ice rental rates have held squarely at $100 per hour for years," Coole said. "We subsidize $25 per hour of our actual ice time costs through fundraising and advertising revenue at our arenas. A $8 surcharge on rental fees helps to pay for the locker room expansion and new dasher boards at Fryberger. We hope to get the loan paid off by the end of this year." Fryberger and Peterson will receive a new roof and dehimidification system next summer, Coole said.

"The humidification system should take care of the ceiling dripping problems we battle through early and late in the year," Coole said.


Player registration fees, which range from $50 for mini-mites $50 to $172 fo r bantams through junior gold, have also remained steady.

And, the state of youth hockey in Duluth?

"It's still a highly visible sport," Coole said. "It's time consuming for most parents, but we believe it's the best game in town. The Bulldogs men's and women's teams generate a lot of interest. We believe we offer the best program in the state for youth hockey. And players and their parents get a real bang for their buck.

"Besides registration, it could cost them an additional $150 to $500 annually. It's all based on each team's budget, how much they want to skate inside versus outside, and how many tournaments they want to compete in." Minnesota youth hockey numbers are down, and the Iron Range has been particularly hard hit, Coole said.

"We're very pleased that we've been able to maintain our numbers, even with few young families moving to town," Coole said. Hockey builds self-esteem, and helps youths to learn teamwork, Coole said.

"Statistics have proven that kids who compete in all youth sports, and not just hockey, are less likely to do drugs or alcohol and learn to manage their life better," Coole said. "Kids who are focused and doing more are also better students."

DAHA is always in the hunt for indoor ice time for its teams, Coole said.

"The recent unseasonably warm winters have made it tough on our outside rinks," Coole said. "We used to make ice in early November, but today you're lucky if you have ice by Christmastime. Because you can't count on outdoor ice, hockey's become mostly an indoor sport."


    Lindgren, a native of Finland who attended New York College in Maryland, moved to Duluth two years ago. He coached the Central Bantam A team in 2000-01, and last year coached the first-year Lakers Bantam A team.
    Lindgren, 33, started his coaching career in Sweden in 1988.

    "I've been coaching ever since from squirts through high school level players," said Lindgren. "I enjoy coaching youth hockey, but after coaching the Bantams last year I thought it might be better for me to coach the younger players to help them develop their individual and team skills."

    Lindgren said American hockey has taken on a free-flowing European style.

    "America has caught up in puck movement and system mobility, and in using the whole ice, but the physical part is still evident," he said. "Yet, I don't see nearly as much of the physical play in American hockey as in the past, even in youth hockey."

    Lindgren says his team will play between 40 and 50 games, "while focusing more on practicing."

    "Our focus will be to develop the program in practices and then explore," he said. "The European ratio is three practices per game, and here it's two and one. We'll probably make a trip to Canada and play in six tournaments."

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