Every Monday night during the winter months, the Carolina Hurricanes’ training facility at the Raleigh Ice Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a popular place.
Wake County Boys & Girls Club participants who take part in the Capital City Crew program are on the ice receiving instruction. The kids, who are mostly brand new to hockey, sometimes earn a special treat. Hurricanes players Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury were at practice in early February teaching the sport to the young skaters.
That’s just one of many perks for the inner-city youth who are given the chance to play hockey for the Capital City Crew.
“What we’re trying to do is create a program that provides an opportunity to young men and young women at the Boys Club and Girls Club who normally wouldn’t have the exposure to the great game,” said Capital City Crew Hockey Operations Manager Greg Meluch.
From the Capital City Crew’s inception nine years ago, the program has had a partnership with the Hurricanes, Raleigh Youth Hockey Association and the Wake County Boys & Girls Club. All the kids who play for the program attend the local Boys & Girls Club.
“It’s a great partnership, because they bring something to the table that we desperately need and that we build the foundation around,” said Capital City Crew founder and director John Scott. “I attend their staff meetings a couple of times a year to provide feedback and to take their feedback on how the program’s growing, how we can change it, how we can make it better. It takes a huge weight off our shoulders, because we don’t have to recruit kids.”
Each year prior to the season, Scott determines how many kids the program can service within the budget. Scott will specify how he wants the youth players segmented by gender, how many returning players he’d like back and he’ll request a good balance of younger and older kids.
Capital City Crew’s target age is players ages 8 to 14 years old. However, Scott isn’t going to stop any younger kids who are antsy to try out the sport. Once the kids graduate from the program at 14, some are able to move into a house league or travel team.
This year, the program consists of 85 kids who practice at two rinks. Along with the 40 players who are at the Raleigh Ice Center on Mondays, 45 players lace up their skates at The Factory in Wake Forest on Thursdays.
The kids receive one hour of on-ice training per week followed by a 15- to 20-minute life skills session. It’s a nice mix of learning on and off the ice.
“We wanted to do more than just teach kids how to play the game,” said Capital City Crew Life Skills Manager Michael Kanters. “We wanted to use it as a platform to help young people also develop as people.”
On the ice, the players got through a 12- to 15-week instructional program using skills progressions offered by USA Hockey.
“The progress that they make over the 12- to 15-week program is just amazing,” said Meluch, who is a USA Hockey Level 4-certified coach. “It’s due to the fact that it’s something new for them. I can tell you 95 percent of the young men and young women in our program have never had exposure to ice hockey ever before. The majority have never skated on ice.”
The first six weeks of the course focuses on forward and backward skating, transitions, stickhandling, passing, shooting and balance. The kids are divided into six stations to work on the different skills.
“When they have their individual skills built, then we work on team skills,” Meluch said.
In the last half of the course, the players are divided by age and skill level into teams to play cross-ice 3-on-3, 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 games.
There are anywhere from 12-15 coaches who work each session, so there’s an impressive 3-to-1 player-to-coach ratio.
After the kids’ on-ice session concludes, there’s a brief break for a breather and a life skills component is introduced. Offering more than just hockey in the Capital City Crew program has been something that’s very important to Scott since Day 1.
“It was kind of like the main ingredient that I wasn’t going to do [the program] without it,” Scott said.
Kanters designed a curriculum that teaches a series of skills. There’s always a lesson of the week that hits on an important subject such as setting goals, appreciating differences or leading a healthier lifestyle. The instructors are taught not to present the information to the kids like they are in school because they get enough of that during the day.
“It’s a very light lesson,” Kanters said. “It’s activity-based and you’re trying to connect it with other life domains. You don’t want to come in hard and heavy on life lessons, otherwise they’re going to tune you out. We try to incorporate it with a little bit of snack time if they’re coming off the ice — water and healthy snacks.”
Scott has received plenty of positive feedback that the Capital City Crew is making a difference in the lives of the kids, and in turn, the kids are making a difference in their community.
“The parents and the people at the Boys & Girls Club say, ‘Hey, we’ve noticed a change in behavior with time management skills, in areas of their school work, in areas of being confident,’” Scott said. “Some of these kids come to us and they’re shy about everything, and now we give them a sense of belonging. They’re on a team, they’re in a family; it’s something they look forward to.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc
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.”
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.’”
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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