While Alexandria Area Hockey Association focuses on skill development and improvement year in and year out, its biggest focus is simply on letting the kids have fun.
“Our biggest goal is we want the kids to have a memorable, fun experience and just enjoy being at the rink,” Ryan Severson, director of hockey operations, said.
That focus is working. With 375 kids in the association, AAHA saw only one Bantam player leave the program from 2015-16 to the 2016-17 season. Severson attributes the high retention rate to a few factors, namely moving to an equal B model and the association’s annual beginner clinic.
“With the equal B format, we do take some games against some really competitive associations, but our overall experience for the kids throughout the season is a much more positive experience,” Severson said.
The equal B format is now in its third year and is helping drive up participation numbers, which AAHA believes only helps breed success.
In addition to the equal B format, the association hosts a beginner clinic prior to each season. For $35, all ages can participate in the two week clinic, touching the ice seven to eight times. Last year, Alexandria had
“Our goal is to get about 50 percent of those kids to sign up for our association,” Severson said. “We go anywhere from 4-year-olds up to 12-year-olds. We see a lot of new kids trying the game and we think that is really important.”
A big part of Alexandria’s success is its girls’ program, which is thriving.
“We do treat our girls as 100 percent equals to the boys,” Severson said. “They get just as many opportunities as far as ice time, what programming we provide for them, the focus, once again, on those girls having fun at the rink. And just overall improvement from the beginning of the season to the end of the season.”
While equal treatment is important, AAHA does make a special effort to keep the girls coming back by splitting the beginner clinic into a boys and a girls group.
When they’re first learning the game and learning to skate, they give the girls their own environment so they aren’t intimidated by the boys. But once the season starts, the Mites are mixed in together.
“We put a focus on that beginner clinic and saw those numbers grow,” Severson said. “Our girls’ program is flourishing, so that’s really exciting.
Alexandria’s hockey community goes beyond the association. All teams in the town work together to have fun and help develop new players.
Both boys’ and girls’ high school teams, as well as the local junior team—the Alexandria Blizzard—help coach youth teams and serve as role models for the young players. Additionally for the girls’ high school squad, the association asks these players to adopt a team. Each player picks a team for the season and is expected to go to practices and a certain amount of games, giving the young girls role models to look up to and to form bonds through the game of hockey.
A community initiative has also made it easy for the youth players to attend high school games. The Friends of Hockey group has partnered up with the high school and pays admission for home games for all youth hockey players to attend for free.
“All the kids have to do is wear their jersey to the game,” Severson said. “It just adds excitement to our association.”
All these efforts within the Alexandria community only foster a stronger focus within the association. Despite the different teams that make up the association, they’re all one.
“One thing we’ve also really pushed this year is that we are all Cardinal hockey players,” Severson said. “We all skate with the same logo on our chest. In the big scheme of things, we’re all on the same team; we are all one.”