Youth hockey in the Triangle area took a major step forward on Thursday with the formation of a new program that will increase accessibility to the sport while making it possible to compete at the highest level.
The program, Canes Youth and Amateur Hockey, is a partnership between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association. The Hurricanes will sponsor the top teams in the RYHA, which will allow them to play at some of the biggest tournaments in North America. In addition, the team will also support the RYHA's house teams.
"CYAH has been a long-standing work of the promotions and fan development department," said Paul Strand, Youth and Amateur Hockey Coordinator for the Hurricanes. "I believe that the growth of hockey in the area is going to be tremendous in the future. This culmination is truly a tremendous thing for the sport."
The affiliation with the Hurricanes, along with the help of former Hurricanes captain and future hall-of-famer Ron Francis, will support the rising amount of talent that is already being produced through youth hockey programs in the area.
"At the end of the day, what's really going to work out is the kids," said Francis, who is now the Director of Player Development for the Hurricanes. "The kids are really going to benefit from this, and really that's what youth hockey should be all about."
Strand said that the growth of youth hockey in the Triangle, fueled in large part by the Hurricanes and their recent Stanley Cup win, made it possible for a program of this magnitude to be created.
"We have the actual numbers here and quality players," said Strand. "We have a team that's going to nationals next week at the pee-wee level and we have a couple of coaches at the minor level that are tremendous teachers, and you can see the product coming through with our Junior Hurricanes now."
Besides making it possible to have a tier one team for the first time, the Hurricanes also hope to support new players at the grassroots level. After the Hurricanes' Stanley Cup win, registration with the RYHA rose by 25 percent. CYAH hopes to do that by providing Hurricanes patches to house teams and hosting banquets for postseason awards.
"That part of it is really what I remember from growing up," said Strand. "The banquets are going to hit more kids in terms of giving them some integrity, some community, some pride and some achievement. I think they're going to be the number one thing in this entire program."
For more information on the Carolna Hurricanes' youth hockey initiatives, including summer camps, please visit the youth and amateur hockey page on the Hurricanes' Web site.