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Columbus Ice Hockey Club Helping Kids Find Hockey Home

05/09/2018, 11:00am MDT
By Greg Bates

Partnership with city’s parks department gives new opportunities for kids to try hockey

Michael Watson got his boys into hockey at a young age.

Spencer and Sam both played up through the ranks of the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC). Now, Spencer is playing for one of the best prep hockey schools in the country, Culver Academy, and Sam is lacing up his skates for the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets.

The two kids have the central Ohio-based CIHC to thank for their development as players and young men.

“I think the ice hockey club really exposed them to and built the love of the game in them,” said Watson, who is president of the organization. “There’s not many kids of color that play hockey, especially during the time when they started. Diversity is something that has gotten better. But when I look at my two kids specifically, Columbus Ice Hockey Club really bred into them, not only the love of the game, but the importance of respecting the game, honoring the game and really what it means to be a good teammate — what it means to actually step outside of your comfort zone and find success.”

There have been similar success stories for some of the hundreds of kids who have played for CIHC over the years.

In a grassroots effort, John Haferman and Jeff Christian co-founded the club in 1999 and partnered with the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department (CRPD) to offer economically disadvantaged boys and girls of all ages in the Columbus area opportunities to play hockey. Roughly 60-65 percent of the kids in the program are either at or below the poverty line.

“I think the best thing about the organization is we are a program that is here to help feed the passions that the kids have to play hockey and once we start feeding that passion, one of the greatest things is we connect the kids,” said Watson, who has been associated with CIHC since 2006. “We show the kids through hockey all the different possibilities that hockey can bring to them.”

CRPD runs street hockey and learn-to-skate programs. CIHC then takes those skaters and allows them to play ice hockey through a learn-to-play program and in-house teams.

“One program couldn’t exist without the other,” Haferman said, who is the executive director of CIHC and director of hockey operations for CRPD.

Over the last 19 years, CIHC has grown to 11 teams: one 4U, one 8U, two 10U, two 12U, two 14U, one 16U, one high school junior varsity and one girls 19U.

“We’re a small group, but I consider us a developmental program for the city of Columbus,” Haferman said.

There are more than 4,000 kids who participate in Columbus’ street hockey and learn-to-skate programs with around 170 kids playing in CIHC, along with another 40-50 kids in the learn-to-play program.

“Hockey is growing in this city and we want to be part of that growth engine,” Watson said. “We want to be a key cog in the engine. And so, the way to do that is to continue to partner, continue to open up doors to schools and rec centers throughout central Ohio.”

The hockey club has a pretty solid retention rate as players who start in the system work their way up.

“Some years you’ll have a kid who goes from our October learn-to-skate to our November learn-to-play to playing games in January,” Haferman said. “It’s a little bit rare, but it happens every year.”

With nearly two decades of players coming through the CIHC program, the organization started an alumni game three years ago to celebrate its history. This year, the game brought back more than 40 former skaters.

“You don’t really know the kind of impact you have on peoples’ lives until years later when they come back and say what an amazing little ride they had and how much they liked it,” Haferman said.

Even more impactful is all but five or six of the nearly 30 coaches who help with the learn-to-skate and the 11 hockey teams played for the CIHC program.

“It’s amazing how kids are now coming back and coaching,” Haferman said. “That’s probably the best story; that we have kids who come back and want to coach after they graduate college.”

Said Watson: “Success is getting those kids to come back into the community and to give back in a meaningful way. We’re starting to see that.”

CIHC isn’t just about hockey; it’s about teaching good academic foundations. The program stresses having the kids do well in school and learn lifelong lessons on and off the rink.

“For us, if the educational component isn’t there, it doesn’t matter how good of a hockey player you are,” Watson said. “It’s your mind that’s going to get you further than anything else.”

When Haferman helped start the CIHC program, he never imagined where it would be nearly two decades later.

“I’m ecstatic,” Haferman said. “I don’t think there was ever any way we thought it would get to where it is now and we’re continuing to evaluate every year with things that are going right, things that we could do to improve and try to get one thing added every single year.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc

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1996 World Championship Team

Raising the Bar: 1996 U.S. Men’s National Team

06/16/2014, 10:30am MDT
By Jessi Pierce

With one final blare of the goal horn, it was over. Wiping away more than three decades of IIHF World Championship frustration, Team USA had toppled Russia.
This wasn’t the universally known Miracle on Ice of 1980, but it was a watershed moment, sending a powerful message about USA Hockey on the international stage. What the 1996 United States Men’s National Team accomplished in a 4-3 overtime defeat of Russia in Vienna, Austria, was a step toward more consistent success at the World Championship.

“It was pretty dramatic,” said 1996 team member Tom Chorske. “It was a shorthanded goal by Brian Rolston, so that was pretty incredible. The Russian team was always good, and that was a time just after the heyday of the Red Army teams…so it was a big deal to beat the Russians.”

The win cemented a bronze medal for Team USA – its first medal-finish in the tournament since 1962. In total, the boys in red, white and blue have taken home 10 medals at the World Championship, with three of those being claimed since the 1996 team won bronze.

“After we got that medal, I think guys started to realize there was something to play for,” said Joe Sacco, a forward on the 1996 team and assistant coach of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team that competed in Minsk, Belarus. “I think the players don’t understand how important (the World Championship) is to other countries. It’s almost like their Stanley Cup over there. It’s a great tournament and it was a lot of fun. To bring home a medal in the process, the first in 34 years, you leave a mark when do something like that.”

According to Sacco, it wasn’t a star-studded roster; rather it was just a bunch of working-class guys extending their hockey seasons, but that’s what made it work.

“Anytime you are able to get a team to come together quickly as a group, it’s going to help your chances,” said Sacco, who fed Rolston for the eventual game-winner. “It was a lot of blue collared-type attitudes, a lot of good guys and we were all on the same page pretty quickly.”

With Ron Wilson at the helm, Team USA worked its way to the bronze-medal game with preliminary wins over Austria, Germany and Slovakia. A quarterfinal win over Sweden and semifinal loss to the eventual gold medal-winning Czech Republic set up the third-place contest.

Rolston’s goal at 4:48 of overtime sealed it for the Americans. The medal win was 34 years in the making, and it put USA Hockey back on track. That impact wasn’t lost on the players.

“To be on this team was really something,” said Chorske. “It proved that USA Hockey was ascending to be one of the top teams in the world. It was a step forward in our success internationally for a long time to come.”

USA Hockey has been a stepping-stone in the careers of Chorske and Sacco, too.

“I’ve been very fortunate. USA Hockey has been a part of my life since I was 16,” said Sacco, now an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres. “USA Hockey has been a part of my development as a player and as a coach. It’s been a really good relationship for both sides.”

Chorske is currently working in the business sector but also serves as a hockey broadcast analyst for Fox Sports North in Minnesota. He is forever grateful for the opportunity to represent his home country.

“USA Hockey is a national community that I’m proud to be a part of,” he said. “All of the friendships I’ve made over the years, with those teams, and getting to play alongside other American star hockey players was a lot of fun. Certainly medaling with two of those national teams (he was also a member of the 1986 U.S. National Junior Team that earned the first-ever IIHF World Junior Championship medal for Team USA), it’s a big part of what made up my hockey career.

“Behind winning the Stanley Cup, one of the most successful moments of my career was with that USA Hockey team at the World Championship.”


Giving back to the game: Trent Klatt

04/18/2017, 10:45am MDT
By Elizabeth Boger

Trent Klatt had never considered being a coach. 

When a group of Klatt’s friends approached him about the idea, he was hesitant, but eventually came around. He even got the chance to coach his own kids in youth hockey.

The boys varsity head-coaching job at Grand Rapids (Minn.) High School opened up and that same group of people approached him again. This time, Klatt wasted no time taking his place behind the bench for this traditional northern Minnesota hockey powerhouse.

During his first year, Klatt coached his team to a third-place finish at the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. This year, in just his second year at the helm, he helped guide the Thunderhawks to the state championship — Grand Rapids’ fourth overall and first since 1980.

“The guys I have are passionate about the game of hockey and it’s in their blood,” Klatt said. “It’s a neat experience to be around a group of payers that love the game as much as they do. This community here in Grand Rapids has been phenomenal. They’ve been huge supporters of this hockey team for many, many years.”

For Klatt, who played 14 seasons in the NHL and later served as the head amateur scout for the New York Islanders, there’s just something about a community standing behind a team.

It’s even more special when it’s an entire country.

The Minnesota native competed for Team USA in the 1991 IIHF World Junior Championship and at the 1999 IIHF Men’s World Championship where he developed friendships with players from other parts of the United States while representing his country.

“It’s special because you put jerseys on all the time – you’re on this team and that team – but then, all of a sudden it says ‘USA’ on the front,” Klatt said. “It puts you in a different place because now you’re not talking Minnesota or Grand Rapids, you’re talking the world. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.”

Two of Klatt’s players at Grand Rapids, Gavin Hain and Blake McLaughlin, had that same special chance to compete in red, white and blue. Both were selected to the U.S. Under-17 Select Team last year, and they embarked with a simple piece of advice from their high school coach. 

“I said, ‘hey, go have fun,’” Klatt said. “’Just enjoy the moment, and just play the game of hockey. Just because you have a different jersey on doesn’t mean you have to play a different way.’”

Giving Back

Klatt wasn’t always around in his community as much as he would have liked. He joined the Islanders organization in 2010, but the long hours and time away from home eventually prompted him to step down as head amateur scout in 2015. It was at that same time the head coaching job at Grand Rapids opened up.

Still, finding a balance between family and hockey can be a challenge. But Klatt has found a rhythm that allows him to be fully present wherever he is. 

“When I’m home, I’m home,” Klatt said. “I leave all my hockey stuff at the office at the rink. I just try not to intermingle all of them. The biggest thing for me is leaving all the hockey stuff at the rink and not bringing it home with me.”

At the rink, Klatt shares his experiences with the kids on his team – translating them into lessons. Whether it’s experiences in youth hockey, with USA Hockey, the NHL or anywhere in between, Klatt’s grateful for the chance to give back. 

“I’ve been so blessed, so fortunate and so lucky to have made a career out of the game of hockey,” Klatt said. “I’m not saying anybody else has to think this way, but for me, I find it pretty selfish to not give back ... Kids these days are so eager to sit and listen.”

Klatt uses that opportunity to emphasize the importance of playing the game the right way. He said he expects his players to show respect to coaches, players and officials, while controlling what they can control. 

“I tell the guys this all the time,” Klatt said. “There’s a number of things I could go into to constitute the wrong way and the right way, but I expect them to play the right way.”

Most importantly, Klatt hopes his players will give everything they can give — knowing they made the right decisions and treated everyone with respect.

At the end of the day, Klatt hopes they realize what’s most important.

“If they give everything they have every single day, whether it’s a practice or a game, they can look at themselves in the mirror at night when they brush their teeth, and they can say, ‘you know what, I respected everybody, everybody’s dignity, I gave everything I had, and today, this is how good I was,’” Klatt said. “If they can just take each day and give it every thing they have, they’re going to get to wherever they want to do in life, with anything, and not necessarily with (only) hockey. With any other career, it’s the same thing.”

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