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nemesis8679

Pros and Cons of local youth hockey programs

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So my son is an 08 (or 12u) and is currently playing with a devo team. He's looking to play in a more competitive environment. He'll likely be playing middle school PIHL next season but is also looking to play for one of the local PAHL teams. All of the area teams (North Pittsburgh, Vipers, Renegades, RMU, etc.) I pretty much know nothing about. So, I figured I would ask the members here if they've had experience with these organizations, and what kind of experience they've had. Are they organized? How much distance traveling (one weekend a month, or more) ? Do the coaches know what they're doing? Do they have the right balance of seriousness vs. fun? That kind of stuff. What did you like, what didn't you like? 

Thanks in advance. 

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2 hours ago, nemesis8679 said:

Are they organized? How much distance traveling (one weekend a month, or more) ?

Most, if not all, of the PAHL associations are very organized (i.e., board of directors, rink managers, etc.). PAHL offers teams at the B (lowest), A Minor, A Major, and AA (highest) levels. Start by attending tryouts at the closest organization to your house -- just to get a feel for how tryouts work -- then try a few others in the area. I would also suggest trying out for organizations that offer several teams at each level rather than just a few -- that'll ensure your son is placed at the correct level and enable him to develop properly. Two good resources for seeing which organizations have a lot of teams are the PAHL website (www.pahockey.com) and MYHockey Rankings (www.myhockeyrankings.com). If you end up going to MYHockey, click on "Associations" and filter for Pennsylvania. Then you can check out all of the organizations in Western PA to see how many teams they typically field (both this season and historically).

Travel will depend on which team/level your son makes after trying out. I played PAHL AA -- followed by AAA, which isn't offered by PAHL so we can leave it out of this conversation unless you have specific questions about AAA -- during my youth hockey career. When I was playing PAHL AA, we'd play a 20-game schedule with 10 home games and 10 away games (as far away as Erie, Youngstown, Wheeling, or State College). In addition to the 20-game PAHL schedule, we would usually attend several tournaments each year (an additional ~30 games) in places like Ontario, Chicago, Buffalo, DC, etc. Teams at the A and B levels, however, attend fewer tournaments so the travel is basically just the 10 PAHL road games.

 

2 hours ago, nemesis8679 said:

Do the coaches know what they're doing? Do they have the right balance of seriousness vs. fun?

Coaches in PAHL are almost always dads on the team -- which isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, just depends on who volunteers. The dads coaching at the AA level will probably be a little more knowledgeable than those at the A or B levels, though. The AA level is also going to be more serious than A or B; however, the fun all depends on what you and your son are looking to get out of it. Personally, I loved playing PAHL AA and AAA hockey because I got to travel around the country and play against challenging opponents.

 

2 hours ago, nemesis8679 said:

That kind of stuff. What did you like, what didn't you like?

Make sure your son isn't discouraged if he doesn't make AA right away (assuming he eventually wants to play at that level). He's still young, so with a few good years of development he'll move up quickly if that's his goal. If you decide to check out the PAHL and/or MYHockey websites and have questions about certain organizations vs. others -- or any questions at all -- don't hesitate to post them in here!

Edited by RegDunlop7
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@RegDunlop7 makes a lot of good points that I won’t rehash here. 
 

Both of my boys played PAHL AA level with two organizations - Butler Valley and NP.  Back then what was frustrating with BV was the practice schedule was a mess.  It varied month by month and some practice start times were as late as 9:30pm. That’s late for a MS kid.   

At NP I liked that the practice schedule for weekdays was set for the entire season.  And it didn’t vary month by month, so if the weekday practice slot was Tuesdays at 5:30, that never changed. It makes it easier to plan around a fixed schedule and carpool if needed.  Plus, there were a decent amount of full ice practices. 
 

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Fafa, I've heard a few good "reviews" of NP. It's definitely a consideration. Butler Valley is probably out, we'd need to know what the schedule is for sure. In addition to the ice hockey team, he has a skills coach once a week and two ball hockey teams that he plays for. So a reliable schedule is a must. 

And yeah, 9:30 pm is definitely a late start for that age. That rink is a good 30-40 minutes from us (not that some others aren't, but that late start would be a killer) , so I think I can cross that one off the list. Thank you very much for your insight. 

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Don't underestimate a few things regarding the rink itself, too. You'll be going there quite frequently for six or seven months in the year, so the distance and convenience is a factor. Also, you'll actually be INSIDE the facility quite a bit; if it matters to you, for instance, Pittsburgh Ice Arena (NP) has a gym in it, a decent snack bar, and is convenient to the turnpike. Lots of parents take their kids to practice and hit the gym for a workout while their kids are practicing.

For me, the convenience of the rink to my home trumps all of these, since I am typically on the bench or on the ice with my kids anyway, and not standing in the lobby waiting. But I hear comments about these things from parents all the time (because our home rink does not have some of these amenities).

At any rate, because you'll be going there all the time, these are things to think about.

@RegDunlop7  and @fafa fohi made good points that don't need to be repeated. (Though I have to agree that when an organization messes around with schedules instead of having a set schedule for a season, it is pure misery.)

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Don't hesitate to reach out to the current TM or head coach and ask them what the practice schedule looks like and what the expectations are.  I know that some teams might have practice from 6PM - 7PM, but may have an off ice session or film session before or after that hour on the ice, so your hour and a half at the rink just turned into 2 hours or more. 

Maybe talk to other parents that are currently doing development program with your player and see where they are planning on going.

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The Director of Hockey Ops is the place to start with most organizations, he or she can try to get an idea of what level your kid may play and then give an idea about next season. You can ask when practice slots may be, because the programs should have an idea of what ice they will have. And you can watch a practice or two on live barn.

As far as middle school goes, FYI depending on the size of your school district, he may not make it this year if he is a 7th grader. PIHL limits the number of the younger kids on the team. 

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2 hours ago, Lifelongbender said:

Pittsburgh Ice Arena (NP)

Not sure what the NP means, but if you are talking about North Pittsburgh - they play out of Baierl Ice Complex, not Pittsburgh Ice Arena.

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20 minutes ago, Jack Handey said:

Not sure what the NP means, but if you are talking about North Pittsburgh - they play out of Baierl Ice Complex, not Pittsburgh Ice Arena.

Yeah, you're right. I don't know what I was thinking. Rough morning!

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It is easy to look online ( or just ask) how many teams an organization fields at each specific age grouping, then look at the availability of ice. 
 

Any mention by someone on this board about organization X or Y will probably be met with skepticism and “ oh they’re just a disgruntled parent”.
 

Look for yourself and see if the organization you are considering is fielding too many teams for the amount of ice available, then decide if that organization is focused on quality or quantity.

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1 hour ago, Chinstrap said:

It is easy to look online ( or just ask) how many teams an organization fields at each specific age grouping, then look at the availability of ice. 
 

Any mention by someone on this board about organization X or Y will probably be met with skepticism and “ oh they’re just a disgruntled parent”.
 

Look for yourself and see if the organization you are considering is fielding too many teams for the amount of ice available, then decide if that organization is focused on quality or quantity.

This is a really good point about the # of teams a given organization is going to field and the amount of ice time that is available.  

North Pittsburgh was mentioned earlier and they are fielding 6 teams at 10U, 6 teams at 12U, and 5 teams at 14U.  

Arctic Foxes has 4 teams at 10U (including an '09 BY and a '10 BY), and 7 teams at 12U (including an '08 BY and an '07 BY)

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10 minutes ago, Snap Shot said:

This is a really good point about the # of teams a given organization is going to field and the amount of ice time that is available.  

North Pittsburgh was mentioned earlier and they are fielding 6 teams at 10U, 6 teams at 12U, and 5 teams at 14U.  

Arctic Foxes has 4 teams at 10U (including an '09 BY and a '10 BY), and 7 teams at 12U (including an '08 BY and an '07 BY)

Foxes has 3 sheets and all of their 10U and 12U teams typically practice twice a week, one being shared ice and one being full. 

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39 minutes ago, Snap Shot said:

This is a really good point about the # of teams a given organization is going to field and the amount of ice time that is available.  

North Pittsburgh was mentioned earlier and they are fielding 6 teams at 10U, 6 teams at 12U, and 5 teams at 14U.  

Arctic Foxes has 4 teams at 10U (including an '09 BY and a '10 BY), and 7 teams at 12U (including an '08 BY and an '07 BY)

NP has 6 teams at 14u as well.

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28 minutes ago, nemesis8679 said:

What are the deciding factors of playing Birth Year or, say, 12u?

Most PAHL organizations field teams that are simply 8U, 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, and 18U. With this model, your son would play his first year in an age group (i.e., peewee, bantam, etc.) with '07s/'08s and his second year with '08s/'09s. However, some organizations create BY teams if they have enough players to field two competitive teams within the same age group -- the vast majority of BY teams play at the AA level.

Edited by RegDunlop7
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16 minutes ago, nemesis8679 said:

What are the deciding factors of playing Birth Year or, say, 12u?

Most AA for every org consist of the oldest BY. Some organizations (NP, Renegades, Foxes) also advertise a BY for the rising kids. (11 year olds in 12u.) The only BY team sanctioned by PAHL is at 13u, to make first year of checking safer, but they still let a certain percentage of the older BY on because not every organization can actually field pure BY teams. (Shooting any safety argument in the foot since the 13 year olds are still facing 14 year olds on the ice.) As a result, at bantam there is an AA major and AA minor divisions. You get an uneven mess imo for play for BY. The BY teams frequently get misplaced by PAHL, again because it is not set up in PAHL to accommodate BY.

Some people advocate for BY to 'keep kids together' from year to year but there is no guarantee kids will stay.

It depends on the organization, if they are fielding that. Supposed to be the best in that year. 

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1 minute ago, Saucey said:

The only BY team sanctioned by PAHL is at 13u, to make first year of checking safer, but they still let a certain percentage of the older BY on because not every organization can actually field pure BY teams. (Shooting any safety argument in the foot since the 13 year olds are still facing 14 year olds on the ice.)

What I'm about to say is probably better for a separate thread, but it's ridiculous that there's no checking at 12U anymore. They changed the rule long after I played 12U, but that's when kids need to learn how to initiate/receive contact.

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15 minutes ago, Jack Handey said:

Beware the birth year team.  Behind it is always one parent steering the organization for the benefit of his kid.

Agreed for organizations with random one-off AA BY teams. If an organization has AA BY teams at multiple age groups, however, they're most likely legit -- the Preds, for example, have historically had competitive BY teams at Bantam AA, Midget 16U AA, and Midget 18U AA (and sometimes even Peewee AA).

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1 hour ago, RegDunlop7 said:

What I'm about to say is probably better for a separate thread, but it's ridiculous that there's no checking at 12U anymore. They changed the rule long after I played 12U, but that's when kids need to learn how to initiate/receive contact.

Agree!  Rule was changed from Peewee to Bantam right around 2013.

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if a set schedule is the most important thing to you, then NP is probably your best bet. from what i have been told from multiple parents who have 08's playing there is that they have 1 practice a week at a set time for the season. then they have a skills session every other week, which is also at a set time. BUT i was also told that any weekend day they do not have a game, the coaches scramble to schedule another practice which usually turns out to be very early. the foxes give out monthly practice schedules. so the times are always different. they usually have 2 or 3 practices a week. 

i don't really know of anyone that is giving out full ice practices. they usually do the 20-40-20. So one team takes the ice for 20 minutes then a second team comes on for 40 minutes then the first team leaves and the 2nd team has full ice for 20 minutes. 

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Most of the organizations are pretty similar.  
 

Generally speaking the better the team the more away tournaments you will likely do.  But, I would say most peewee teams are going away for tournaments 3 times.  The localized travel is hit or miss.  Sometimes you have Erie in your division, for example, and other years you don’t.  
 

I would pick the same rink that your middle school team plays out of. Less chance of conflicts.

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