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HWAA continues to build grassroots interest in U.S.

Friday, 02.17.2012 / 9:48 AM / Hockey Weekend Across America

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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HWAA continues to build grassroots interest in U.S.
USA Hockey has a packed set of activities nationwide to celebrate Hockey Weekend Across America.
Any hockey fan possessing a jersey of their favorite American-born player should consider donning it Friday when Hockey Weekend Across America kicks off a three-day celebration of the sport throughout the United States.

"Hockey Weekend Across America has been a success because of the vast participation of the hockey community -- from those in our grassroots programs across the country to the NHL and its teams," said USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean.

The nationwide initiative was created by USA Hockey in 2008 to engage the hockey community in celebrating the game at all levels and exposing the sport to new fans. Each of the three days associated with event has a theme, including "Wear Your Favorite Hockey Jersey," sponsored by ShopUSAHockey.com, on Friday; "Try Hockey Day," sponsored by the NHL, on Saturday; and "Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes," sponsored by Liberty Mutual Responsible Sports, on Sunday.

Weekend of hockey begins



Weekend of hockey begins

For the fifth straight year, USA Hockey will present Hockey Weekend Across America, presented by Reebok. The three-day celebration of the sport opens Friday.

Here is what USA Hockey has planned:

On Friday, fans are encouraged to visit USA Hockey's Facebook page to submit photos of themselves, their friends and colleagues wearing their favorite hockey jersey as part of "Wear Your Favorite Hockey Jersey" day.

On Saturday, more than 200 rinks across the nation will host "Try Hockey for Free" clinics, exposing more than 40,000 youngsters to hockey for the very first time. A list of scheduled clinics can be found here.

In honor of "Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes" day on Sunday, USA Hockey is asking fans to post stories, photos or videos of their hockey heroes to its Facebook wall to share with the world. Local associations and fans will be honoring their local hockey heroes in various ways throughout the day.

Additionally, the NHL's Minnesota Wild, Xcel Energy Center and the city of St. Paul are hosts for Hockey Day in America presented by McDonald's on Sunday. The day will be capped with the Wild's nationally-televised game on NBC against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at 3:30 pm ET. NBC's coverage for HDIA will be anchored at Wells Fargo WinterSkate Rink in downtown St. Paul.

-- Source: USA Hockey
Even though Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky was born in Brantford, Ont., he has seen the tremendous growth of hockey in the U.S.

"There's no question it has progressed and gotten bigger and better throughout this country," Gretzky told NHL.com. "I think you can trace it all the way back to 1980 and the U.S. Olympic gold and the excitement that the country felt for guys like Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig."

Following an illustrious nine seasons with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky starred for the Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

"I was lucky that when I went to L.A., we had (Steve) Yzerman in Detroit, we had Mario (Lemieux) in Pittsburgh, we had Brett Hull doing what he did in St. Louis, and of course then (Mark) Messier going into New York," Gretzky said. "In each part of the country, there were guys people wanted to go watch and see play. Just as important, those guys were really good in promoting our game and selling our game, so we got a really nice springboard there."

Participation throughout the U.S. has increased from 195,000 male and female players of all ages registered with USA Hockey in 1990-91 to 475,000 in 2009-10. Earlier last year, it registered its 100,000th player at the 8-and-younger level.

USA Hockey will be making good use of the weekend to educate and demonstrate to the national public what the American Development Model (ADM) is all about.

Prior to the widespread integration of the ADM by USA Hockey in January 2009, hockey was the only major sport that didn't shrink its playing surface to match the age group. A change was in order, particularly when you consider youth baseball players compete on an appropriately sized Little League diamond, soccer uses a smaller ball and smaller field and basketball always has lowered the rim.

"We want to get more kids on the ice to play, teach them how to play better and get them to love the game and play it longer," Ogrean said. "Hockey in America is growing and getting better. We're interested in having more Americans in the NHL; almost 80 percent of the clubs in the NHL are from the U.S. Our relationship with the League is better than it's ever been. The growth has been great."

The ADM model or USA Hockey's Red, White and Blue Hockey program promotes the implementation of cross-ice practices and games into youth hockey. The results have been promising as it has raised the level of creativity among players, increased player participation and has created a positive environment for youth players to learn and play.

The ADM clinic will be featured Saturday morning at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena and throughout the day Sunday at the Wells Fargo WinterSkate outdoor rink at Landmark Plaza in downtown St. Paul, Minn.

"Everything an athlete in another sport is asked to do, we ask our athletes to do on a piece of steel about an eighth-of-an-inch wide," Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke said. "This is the way forward; this is not a shot in the dark. We studied how they developed players in Europe, in Sweden and Finland, and put this (ADM) program together. A ton of research went into this and the goal is to get as many kids on the ice and enjoy the game."

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Burke, who served as GM for the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver, has been an avid spokesman for the ADM model. It includes shrinking the ice surface during practices when players split up and rotate through six different stations to hone a specific set of skills. It enables everyone to be involved and with more participation, the more likely those children will develop a passion for the game.

"We think it's an exciting development for hockey in this country," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of Hockey Weekend Across America. "We view the relationship with USA Hockey to not only be important, but vital. The more we do at the grassroots level, the more players develop into NHL players. We are doing well but we will achieve our goal of making this game even bigger, brighter and stronger than anyone ever imagined, particularly in the U.S."

In 16 seasons, the Dallas Stars have gone from having almost no amateur hockey presence in the area to possessing six different clubs at different age levels advancing to USA Hockey's national championship tournaments.

"Going into places like Florida, Tampa Bay and Dallas -- you just see our game expanding more and more," Gretzky said. "You see kids from Dallas being drafted in the first round, kids from L.A. being drafted in the first round, so obviously our grassroots programs have come a long way. I think the game is getting bigger and better all the time."

The Stars, in fact, have built nine facilities in the Metroplex and control 17 ice sheets in the area.

"We have a national footprint today that we didn't have 20 years ago and while not every franchise may be selling out every game, we have hockey in so many parts of the country and that's been tremendous for us," Ogrean said. "It's become more a national game than ever before. When NHL clubs are planted, they create interest in the game and USA Hockey has the infrastructure to capitalize on that."

USA Hockey encourages everyone to get engaged in the celebration by sharing their experiences through the HWAA website at www.facebook.com/USAHockey.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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