The Western New York Amateur Hockey League may have just pioneered the next step forward for 8U competition within USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
About once every three weeks so far this season, the league has been showcasing cross-ice jamboree events for more advanced 8-and-under mites. The jamborees are designed to serve as an extension of the ADM’s cross-ice and half-ice philosophy that emphasizes skill development, with an additional serving of competition and fun.
Tony Pierino and Matt Bean, the cross-rink coordinator and president, respectively, of both the Cheektowaga Warriors Youth Hockey Association as well as the WNYAHL, came up with the idea for the jamborees, which have been highly successful so far.
“If you’re a USA Hockey participating program, your games are cross-ice format,” said Bean, whose Cheektowaga organization hosted the second jamboree in November. “It’s like a tournament format, but there’s no standings, there’s no score-keeping, it’s just competition. We do flip cards for the score, and then once the game’s over, that’s it.
“We just wanted to be different, we wanted to add some flavor to it. There’s no reason for standings with parents getting all bent out of shape over results when the results are happening right there in front of them and the kids are having a bunch of fun on top of it.”
For kids who usually play one game at a time and typically log about 10-15 minutes of ice time, the jamboree format enables them to play much more — up to four shorter games in one day, against opponents who are at a similar level competitively thanks to separate tiers for the region’s most advanced 8U players and those who are less advanced.
“The kids now are getting more ice touches, the kid is getting more ice time, so when grandma and grandpa come, they don’t just watch them play for just 15 minutes out of an hour ice slot,” said Matt Herr, USA Hockey’s ADM regional manager for the New York State and Atlantic districts. “Maybe now they’re on every other shift, they’re touching the puck a lot more, they’re getting more shots on goal. There are a lot of great things that are going to happen in these games, and some teams are playing four games at 18 minutes apiece, depending on what the ice situation is for the particular event. And it’s competitive. It’s fun.
“And you’ve got to remember, it’s 7 and 8-year-old kids.”
There’s also the added attraction of fun off-ice activities, such as bounce houses and golf putting greens in the rink lobby, that have become a staple of these jamborees and have helped turn them into even more exciting events.
“This jamboree format has worked out; it’s been well-received,” Bean said. “I think every time somebody hosts it, they’re trying to do something a little different with the off-ice activities. The on-ice activity stays the same, but it’s almost like we’re trying to have like a monthly carnival. It’s that type of atmosphere there.”
In addition to providing the players with a high-performance opportunity to develop their skills and have fun, the jamborees have also proven successful in an unexpected way.
“The part that, personally, I didn’t anticipate was the learning experience that the parents are gaining,” noted Ben Dennis, coach of the U8 Cheektowaga Warriors and father of a boy on the team. “A presentation from USA Hockey staff members at the very first jamboree opened a lot of eyes to the idea behind the ADM. The parents can now see, during mini-games, how their player touches the puck more often, has to frequently stop and start, is learning to find open space and how to absorb body contact.”
With a similar league popping up in Rochester, the possibility of a larger network of jamborees looms on the horizon.
“It’s our hope that, at some point, some of these teams will get to cross over a little bit, when the leagues develop a bit more,” Herr said. “Our hope is, too, that this league keeps getting more publicity and expands and more teams are willing to come in and see the benefits on the development side, but also in the excitement to keep their clientele happy.”