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AmeriHealth Pavilion and New Jersey Devils host first USA Hockey coaches’ clinic

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Level 1 coaches work with instructors to practice and demonstrate drills as Level 2 and 3 coaches observe in the stands. The on-ice part of the day helped coaches learn techniques in a hands on way and allowed questions to be instantly answered. Photo by Melanie Rieder

AmeriHealth Pavilion, the practice facility of the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center, played host to USA Hockey on August 2 as the national governing body of the sport ran a clinic for coaches for the first time at the rink. Around 100 coaches attended to learn additional techniques as they renewed their certifications.

Coaches in the Atlantic District renew their certifications annually at clinics like this, which serve as an opportunity to refresh skills and experience new ideas and initiatives promoted by USA Hockey. At Sunday’s clinic, coaches from eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware could earn certification at Levels 1-3 of USA Hockey.

The day’s events were run by Andy Gojdycz, Hockey Director of AmeriHealth Pavilion and Associate Coach in Chief for the Atlantic District of USA Hockey, who considers the facility “perfect” for this kind of event. Between youth hockey, adult hockey and clinics, Gojdycz hopes to make Prudential Center and AmeriHealth Pavilion the central hub of hockey in the Garden State.

For coaches, AmeriHealth Pavilion served as a great central location for the clinic. John McNally, a Bayonne Rangers coach from Staten Island said Prudential Center was ideal because everything could be done at one place. “The facility helps because everything is right here, in one building…I’ve been to other coaching clinics where you’re in a classroom and then have to get in your car to go to a rink.”

While USA Hockey runs 8-10 clinics annually between July and December, not all are created equally. A special feature of the clinic at AmeriHealth Pavilion was an hour of on-ice time Sunday morning, where instructors brought Level 1 coaches onto the ice to demonstrate practice plans, drills, and techniques, to then take to the kids being coached in the upcoming season.

Dave Kline, a Level 3 coach, also with the Bayonne Rangers, said it was his first clinic with an on-ice component. “It’s more real life. You get to see the drills live and you can ask a question or it’s explained right then and there.” McNally expressed the same sentiment, saying that seeing fellow coaches perform drills was more educational than relying on interpreting a book.

USA Hockey certifies coaches at five levels. Level 1 coaches usually work with mite and squirt level teams, Level 2 coaches often work with squirt and peewee teams, and Level 3 coaches work with teams from mite into bantam level. Level 4 certifications, which include college and professional coaches, and Level 5 master coaches, who write theses as part of their certification, earn permanent certification over weekend clinics and week-long clinics, respectively.

A key advantage of AmeriHealth Pavilion was the availability of ice for demonstrations. For some coaches, past clinics involved driving to alternate facilities for an on-ice component, or lacked on-ice elements altogether. Photo by Melanie Rieder

New Jersey Devils Head Coach John Hynes, for example, holds a Level 4 certification. Hynes previously worked with USA Hockey, coaching the U.S. National Development Team Program, before joining the Penguins’ organization. General Manager Ray Shero also has ties to USA Hockey, having served as Associate General Manager of the 2014 Winter Olympic team in Sochi, Russia.

Gojdycz explained that as long as coaches are renewing their certification and advancing annually, will continue to advance within the coaching educaiton program and satisfy the requirements for each level. A previously uncertified bantam coach would have to first be certified at Level 1, and each year would have the option to rise a level. As long as the coach is staying active in the certification process, he’d be allowed to continue coaching at the bantam level.

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