Everyone knows everyone. Help is always available to those who ask for it. Support, for new teams and old, is never in short supply or hard to find, whether it be monetary, material or physical help.
The support for Arizona hockey starts all the way at the top. The Arizona Coyotes have made it one of their missions to do whatever they can to help the Arizona hockey community grow and thrive. And while many of the local teams have multiple ways of gaining funding and other support, they say that the help they receive from the Coyotes is crucial to the success and continued growth of their programs.
Most recently, the Coyotes supported three local teams, donating $10,000 dollars and brand new jerseys to each the One Step Coyotes, the ACCEL Coyotes and the Coyotes Sled Hockey team during the month of January.
The Coyotes Sled Hockey team, run by Michelle and Paul Crane, describe the program as a "passionate group of hockey fans in Arizona who wanted to play the sport despite the limitations we have." They serve people around all of Arizona with physically adaptive needs who have an interest in wanting to learn how to play hockey.
The Coyotes have been helping the Coyotes Sled Hockey team both financially and through donating gear for a while now. On January 8th, though, Christian Dvorak surprised the Coyotes Sled Hockey team with even more than normal, presenting their large $10,000 check and brand new jerseys.
"Recently, thanks to the help from the Coyotes, we've been able to really ramp up our outreach efforts and secure equipment and ice time for our players," said Paul Crane. "Without the ice time we can't reach out to as many players as we'd like. Our program has gone up from 8 roster players to now 20 thanks to the Coyotes and their continued support."
"Everyone in our program can't buy a sled right away; they cost anywhere from $700-$1000 dollars. Getting gear and a sled can be hard for our participants, so being able to provide them with gear to use is key to allowing them to participate and enjoy the game."
This money from the recent donation will also help the team travel to the Disabled Hockey Festival. Thanks to the donation, the team will be able to reinforce its current success, but also focus on growing in the future.
"This program means so much to our players," said Paul Crane. "Many of them are given their first chance to skate in years following an accident, or their first time ever due to accommodations they've needed since birth. We had a man this summer who started to cry when he realized that now, he'll be able to skate with his kids and his grandkids. He'd played hockey when he was younger, but had assumed that he wouldn't ever be able to again. Now he can; those are the moments that this kind of funding helps us achieve."
On the 15th of January, Christian Fischer surprised the ACCEL Youth Coyotes. The ACCEL Youth Coyotes, overseen by Dorian Townsend, is Special Hockey team for youth ages 5-17 with developmental adaptive needs. Offered through the already-established ACCEL organization, the program is in its inaugural season and was able to get started largely due to the help from the other organizations and the Coyotes.
Townsend, who serves at the Vice President of Advancement at ACCEL, played hockey when she was younger, and was the first person to reach out for help starting the program.
"When I came on board I really wanted to get a program started, since I saw the value in having hockey available for everybody," said Townsend. "But I knew we would need help. Now we have ties to both of the other programs the Coyotes recently donated to."
She reached out immediately to Jared Woosley, who started the One Step Coyotes, the only adult Special Hockey team in the state. He gave her advice on what worked and didn't work during their first season.
"We got the program started in October and we had 12 people on the roster, plus volunteers from several different organizations," said Townsend. "It's funny how the hockey world is connected here, because one of our volunteers for our special hockey team is a player on the Sled Hockey team. All of the programs are pretty linked together and very cooperative with each other, so it's really great to have that support system."
This recent donation was not the first time that the Coyotes have worked with ACCEL. Over the summer, the Coyotes renovated their multipurpose room, after Townsend had given some members of the Coyotes organization a tour of their campus.
The $10,000 from this particular grant will now be used to secure the team's ice time for the spring season and part of next season, and will help the team purchase some new gear. The help that Townsend has received has taken the program from just an idea in October to one of ACCEL's most established recreational programs for the kids.
"Hockey has been an incredible addition to these kids' lives," said Townsend. "We've seen kids grow from not wanting to ever step foot on the ice and hiding in the bathroom to skating without a walker in two practices and being our best skater. The smiles we see are amazing, and even the sauciest kids blossom when they get to play."
In the future, Townsend would like to work on a creating a Special Sled Hockey team, as many of ACCEL's currently players benefit from the style of special hockey but lack the mobility to skate upright. Townsend says a Special Sled Hockey team would be ideal to allow the kids to get the most out of the sport.
Finally on January 22nd Jakob Chychrun surprised the One Step Coyotes with their donation and jerseys.
One Step is a college of sorts for adults who need intellectual learning accommodations, and the program tries to give its participants the chance to pursue any opportunity they want. Hockey was one of those opportunities many of the participants really wanted to be a part of, and so the One Step Coyotes became the only adult Special Hockey team in Arizona.
Back when the team was known as the One Step Bobcats, a video of the Coyotes surprising the players with jerseys and the chance to get on the ice at Gila River Arena went viral. That experience was the beginning of a strong relationship between the One Step program and the Coyotes.
"The Coyotes think of us anytime they possibly can, whether it be gear or whatever," said Jared Woosley, who created and oversees the One Step Coyotes. "The Coyotes never seem to just give once. Nothing is ever a one-off thing for them. They take the time and they make the effort to make a connection with who they help and establish a relationship. It's clear that it's important to them to be able to provide continues support in any way they can."
The $10,000 dollars will be used again for equipment for existing team members, and new gear for new recruits, but also to give back to those who have supported them with donations of ice time.
The money donated came from an Industry Growth Fund that was awarded to the Coyotes organization by the NHL and the NHLPA. The Coyotes Sled Hockey was chosen because they are the only sled hockey team in the valley, the One Step Coyotes are the only team for adults with intellectual adaptive needs, and the ACCEL Youth Coyotes reached out to the Coyotes for help in starting their team.
It's easy to say that hockey is for everyone. It doesn't take much effort to partake in marketing campaign, but it's harder to actually show that hockey is for everyone. It's even harder to make the effort to make hockey available to everyone, but that accessibility is crucial.
"I think that Hockey is For Everyone is a great motto and a great mission statement, but for me the Coyotes take it to the next level," said Woosley. "What they mean above all is that hockey is attainable for everyone, and they're there to help make it happen. To me the team's message is 'hey, hockey in our community is accessible if you want to play it - we'll show you how and help you.' They make the effort to make sure it's not some closed-off club, it's amazing."
Putting in the effort to do so has never been in doubt for Matt Shott, the Director of Youth Hockey Development for the Coyotes.
Getting a hockey program running and successful is a tough process at any level of play. Equipment is expensive and so is ice time. However, no level of effort is too much, says Shott.
"Making hockey accessible for everyone is just finding the funding in one way, shape or form," says Shott. "At the end the day the reason that I do it is to grow the sport. I've been doing this job since I was in elementary school. Anyone that I saw who wanted the opportunity to play hockey? Why would I ever say no?"
Growing traditional ice hockey in Arizona has never been the sole goal of Shott and the Coyotes. Rather, the organization makes an effort to make hockey available to every group that seeks to play the sport.
The Coyotes have sponsored youth hockey with their Little Howlers program, and women's hockey with the help of Lyndsey Fry and her Small Frys program, which is being looked at to implement something similar league-wide. And last season, the Coyotes partnered with the local rinks to improve the facilities. In one year, the Coyotes donated new equipment to 301 schools, so that they can include Street Hockey in the PE curriculum.
"We're even looking at a way to work with the Association of Blind Kids," says Shott. "We've already donated them equipment and special pucks to start what can hopefully be another positive relationship with them. If there are groups who want to play hockey, there's always going to be a way to do whatever it takes to make it happen."
The Cranes have seen first-hand through their program how important the accessibility of hockey is.
"For some of our players, hockey had been a passion growing up. For others, it was something they yearned to try, but lacked the funding or the ice-time to get out there," said Crane. "We're able to provide them the sled; all it takes it the extra initiative on our end and they have the means to get hooked on the game too."
The Coyotes know they are in a non-traditional market, and that it's hard to gain fans and support. So they will never turn down a chance to create a hockey fan.
"Everyone that we chose to sponsor? They're perfect hockey players and perfect hockey fans. Their passion and enthusiasm is unreal. They truly love hockey. Not winning or losing, but just getting out there and playing the game," said Shott.
"It's not just about showing kids that they can make a living out of the sport. It's about showing them that if they want to play, there's a way that they can play. Those are the people that I want in the hockey community."
Shott knows that someone along the way could have told them that they couldn't play, that hockey wasn't accessible to them. That's the goal of funding like this, for the Coyotes, there's a desire to show anyone interested in getting out on the ice that here's a way to do it.
"The One Step Coyotes, the Coyotes Sled Hockey team and the ACCEL Coyotes? They're very fun teams to be around and be a part of," Says Shott. "We're doing everything we can to make sure that people who want to play hockey have the accessibility to play hockey in a comfortable and fun environment. "