GLENDALE -- According to Arizona Bobcats power skating coach Mike Hensdell, the biggest thing young hockey players need to work on is exactly what he teaches – good skating.
“If you can’t skate, you can’t play,” he suggests.
This proves to be the case often enough at the NHL level; players with poor skating habits get called out and the critics aren’t forgiving. That’s why Hensdell works from an early age to make sure the foundation is there; whether the players want to go on to junior, collegiate, or pro hockey he wants to make sure they’re starting with the best building blocks for success.
|Mike Hensdell |
A native of Tacoma, Washington, Hensdell and his twin brother were first put in skating lessons when they were three years old – when World and Olympic figure skating coach Kathy Casey taught the duo how to skate.
They moved on to hockey when they were six, when their grandfather asked if they wanted to try out the sport. Now, decades later, Hensdell is still involved in the game.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, and I love working with kids,” said Hensdell, talking about why he works with the Bobcats. “What better way than to pass on what I have learned to the next generation of hockey players?”
His goal is to use his skating ability to help that generation reach their goals at the next level, no matter what that level is.
It’s having strong fundamental programs like the one that Hensdell works on with the Bobcats that helps grow hockey in Arizona. Bobcats coach Ron Filion has helped bring in the right people for the organization, suggests Hensdell, to help make successful youth hockey in Arizona a reality – Auston Matthews may be helping to put the organization’s AAA program on the map across North America, but it’s the coaching and development that has helped make this possible.
“The Bobcats program has grown rapidly over the last couple of years, from just two teams to a full program. The structured training in a fun environment that Filion has implemented has improved Arizona youth hockey as a whole.”
According to Hensdell, the program starts with skating fundamentals at a young age, then moves into the other skills necessary to develop top-tier hockey players. Once the skating is there, the Bobcats – who trained Matthews before he left for the US National Development Program – incorporates skills like passing and stickhandling. Once those are present, the players move on to add systems into their repertoire.
|Mike Hensdell |
“I’m a better coach because I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Bobcats program,” insisted Hensdell.
He’s moved from just a power skating coach, something he’s done for the last four years, to assisting with the skills development as well; it’s not just the players who get to move from skating to skills development as they spend more time in the program.
The Bobcats have gotten to attend the Quebec International Pee-Wee tournament, and that’s helped them gain exposure. Matthews has helped as well, and now the addition of ASU NCAA hockey – as well as a women’s team – will help even more.
Youth hockey can’t grow without good fundamentals in place, though.
Even the best marketing can stagnate with poor programs. A system that fails to teach players the skills they need to succeed – or teaches them too little, too late – can hurt the growth of a community as a whole. The best way to see a community thrive, particularly when it comes to youth sports, is to see the players do well.
That’s what makes coaches like Hensdell so important, particularly in a market like Arizona.
He – and the Bobcats program – have seen hockey go from a niche sport to one that more and more kids are getting involved in, both at lower levels and higher up. The sky continues to be the limit for hockey in the desert, and the coaches that have helped make that possible are well aware.