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Strength in numbers: Arizona's hockey scene flourishing

Arizona ranks second amongst all other U.S. NHL markets in total growth percentage over the past five years

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

It's better than it's ever been.

For hockey development in Arizona, it's much more than an opinion, but a fact.

Boasting nine travel hockey programs, nine adult league programs, six house and development league programs, a high school league that includes 30-plus teams, and countless learn-to-play and learn-to-skate programs, hockey has found its strength in numbers.

That, of course, necessitates places to play. The heart of Arizona hockey's growth lies in the nine ice rinks that operate within the state, consisting of 14 sheets of ice total.

"We have incredibly passionate rink owners and program directors," said Matt Shott, the Coyotes' Director of Hockey Development. "They have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of the development programs and to provide a place for kids and adults to play or great sport"

Those rinks not only provide a place to play, but also a place for programs to continue growing.

And that growth has been tremendous.

"We are thrilled with our growth numbers over the past season," said Coyotes President & CEO Ahron Cohen. "It's really an amazing story and a testament to a lot of hard work by so many people associated with our team, including our Brand Ambassador Lyndsey Fry and our Director of Hockey Development Matt Shott. We see it as our fundamental mission to grow the great game of hockey-especially at the youth level-and we will never rest until everyone in Arizona has an opportunity to participate in our sport."

USA Hockey recently announced its participation numbers throughout the country for the 2018-19 season, highlighting Arizona's growth at multiple levels.

Arizona ranked second amongst all other U.S. NHL markets in total growth percentage over the past five years. In addition, Arizona ranked first in total percentage growth for female hockey players and first for total eight and under hockey participation percentage over the past five years.

The boom in registered Arizona female hockey players is due in large part to the Arizona Kachinas Hockey Association, which was established in 2019.

There are now nine girls hockey programs operating; five at the elite level (Two 12U teams, 14U, 16U, and 19U), and four at the developmental and house levels (8U, 10U, 12U, and 14U).

Prior to this year, there have never been more than three girls hockey teams within the state of Arizona.

"It is always encouraging to see the positive growth of youth hockey in the desert and to see our strategies paying off, said Lyndsey Fry, who oversees the entire Kachinas program. "With that said, I'm excited to see how much more we can impact the girls hockey community with the infrastructure that is now in place with the Arizona Kachinas. I firmly believe that now that these girls have a stable place to call home, we will become a model association and Arizona's girls hockey numbers will continue on this upward trajectory."

The Kachinas' coaching staff features women who have experience playing at D1, D3, and Club Collegiate levels, the NWHL, and for National Olympic teams. Whatever level the players in the program aspire to reach, there is a coach with such experience.

Those aspirations, for players, begin at a young age. USA Hockey's numbers showed that Arizona ranked first among all U.S. NHL markets in girls (eight and under) growth percentage.

Across the board, the Coyotes' learn-to-play and learn-to-skate initiatives, which are headlined by the Little Howler's program, continue to reach their maximum registration limit of 700 participants year after year, with almost a match in that number on its waiting list.

Little Howler's is the first step in creating a hockey player, a fan. With help from the NHL, each player in the program receives head-to-toe equipment, including skates, for a flat fee of $150. This comes with six weeks of on-ice sessions with coaching from NHL alumni, with a graduation from the program held at Gila River Arena.

"We are lucky to have such amazing support from the NHL and the NHLPA to be able to run our programs," said Shott. "They see that we are serious about our vision to make Arizona a hockey state. We have an amazing crew within the hockey development department that really make it easy to accomplish everything we are doing."

Growth, after all, is continuous. And for hockey in Arizona, the rate has been great.

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