This season - thanks in part to the organization’s influx of coaching and financial resources to enhance the players’ experience, along with condensing rosters in an effort to get the kids more ice time and puck touches - the club was able to lift six Mite teams into action this season - three each at the A and B levels.
“The stronger we can be at those first couple of entry-level years in terms of participation, the stronger our entire program becomes across the board,” said Jr. Kings general manager of hockey operations Nick Vachon. “Once you have a great base and a great foundation, the entire program benefits.”
That foundation is cultivated in large part by the club’s coaching staffs, and Vachon firmly believes the Jr. Kings have some of the best at the Mite levels.
Heading up the Mite A squads are Jamie Storr, Joe Consolazio and Brett Beebe; Dimitri Voulelikas, Jeff Bain and Stephan Desjardins lead the Mite B teams.
“All of these guys do a great job both teaching and getting the kids excited to learn and have fun,” said Vachon. “And the kids are going to become better hockey players when they get to Squirts and Pee Wees because of our coaches’ knowledge and way they conduct themselves in front of this particular age group, on and off the ice.”
Beebe, who coached Midget 16U AAA last season, is excited to make an impact mentoring some of the youngest Jr. Kings.
“Coaching Mites couldn't be more different, but I absolutely love it,” said Beebe, a former Jr. King. “These kids are attentive, they want to be coached and they have so much passion for the game.
“Our goal as a staff is to get these kids to make plays while moving their feet, learn how to play away from the puck, and most importantly have fun and understand the game better.”
And along with the new American Development Model (ADM) boards the Jr. Kings invested in this season as per USA Hockey’s recommendation - they’re smaller, lighter and more manageable for coaches and administrators to set up and tear down - Vachon is most excited about the Southern California Amateur Hockey Association-mandated use of intermediate-sized nets.
“I think that really makes a big difference,” said Vachon. “Goaltenders are able to make more saves so they’re having more fun, and it’s going to help the skaters become more accurate shooters; now you don’t have one player scoring 5-6 easy goals because the nets are big; they’ve got to work for some goals, and the games are definitely closer.”
“These kids are learning so much more now with the smaller rinks and smaller nets thanks to the ADM,” Beebe added. “Now the kids have to work together to score and prevent goals if they want to have success as a team.”
James Gasseau is the youth hockey director at El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center. Many of the Jr. Kings Mites are graduates of the facility’s “Learn to Play” and “One Goal” programs.
“Kudos to USA Hockey for getting involved, especially at the 6U and 8U levels; making the playing areas smaller and smaller nets are game-changers,” said Gasseau. “It allows for the kids to touch the puck more, and it’s much more exciting and beneficial from a skill-development standpoint.”
And in the end, grooming the kids in a fun, healthy learning environment is what’s most important both for the player and the long-term vitality of the club.
“We’re not interested in wins and losses at these age groups; we want to make sure these kids get better,” said Vachon. “(Winning and losing) may count at 15-16 years old; not at 6.”