Growing youth hockey programs on Long Island is a major initiative of the New York Islanders, so before they took on the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, February 5, the Isles held their fourth-annual Pee Wee Jamboree at Nassau Coliseum.
With just three hours to play (1-4 p.m.), the ice was split in half to accommodate all 12 teams, who each played three 16-minute games of 4-on-4 hockey. But the smaller ice surface presented new challenges to the 11 and 12-year-old skaters who participated as it forced players to develop and hone their skills rather than use their speed to skate past their opponents.
The Islanders manager of Amateur Hockey Development, Michelle Winter, said that the cross-ice format has been adapted from the USA Hockey initiative.
Cross-ice is a huge initiative for USA Hockey. Usually it’s taught at the younger levels, but when you do cross-ice and there’s less of an ice surface, kids can actually focus in on their skills a little more. It’s not so much about speed. It’s more about handling the puck, handling your stick and passing. - Michelle Winter
“Cross-ice is a huge initiative for USA Hockey,” Winter said. “Usually it’s taught at the younger levels, but when you do cross-ice and there’s less of an ice surface, kids can actually focus in on their skills a little more. It’s not so much about speed. It’s more about handling the puck, handling your stick and passing. When you are a Pee Wee at that level you want to be as fast as possible, but this is really more about skill and that’s the whole point of cross-ice.”
Ed Morin, an assistant coach of the Rinx, said that this was his son Zachary’s second time participating in the jamboree, but that the Rinx has been involved from the very first jamboree held four years ago.
“The kids love it,” Morin said. “They have a great time.”
While the kids enjoyed themselves, Morin said using the cross-ice format is a good teaching tool.
“They get to play 4-on-4 hockey, which is a little different than a full rink, so one of the things they were trying to get used to is passing the puck a lot quicker and responding a lot quicker,” Morin said. “So at first, it’s very strange for the kids. They’re used to having a longer ice and not having the goals in the corner. So it was difficult in the beginning, but their last game they played much better, once they got used to the format.”
One reason the Rinx keep coming back to the jamboree is the amount of fun the kids have while out on the ice. Not only are they playing 16-minute games against their peers, they are skating where the Islanders, their heroes, get to play and they get to sit on the same bench.
Defenseman for the Fighting Icemen, Joseph Grim, age 11, said, “I was excited at first because we saw the Islanders practice and then they got off and we just wanted to take their position.”
While Grim thought it was cool to watch the Islanders practice, the team’s legacy has transcended generations.
My dad showed me a lot of tapes. I was here for the international tournament too. It’s just fun to skate on the same ice as where the Islanders won their four straight Stanley Cups in a row – in ’80, ’81, ’82 and ’83 – when Bob Nystrom and Mike Bossy were on the team. I just had a great time. - Jesse Viteri
“My dad showed me a lot of tapes,” said the Fighting Icemen’s left wing Jesse Viteri, age 11. “I was here for the international tournament too. It’s just fun to skate on the same ice as where the Islanders won their four straight Stanley Cups in a row – in ’80, ’81, ’82 and ’83 – when Bob Nystrom and Mike Bossy were on the team. I just had a great time.”
Even though Viteri was hurt in one of the games, he had a lot of fun. “There was a lot of speed in the game and it was a really physical game too. I slid in to the boards and I hit my knee and it made a dent into the boards.”
Viteri and Grim’s teammate, and goaltender for the Fighting Icemen, Andre Schiavone, also 11, said he had to get used to playing goal without a crease.
“It was just harder because I’m used to having the box (crease) to angle myself, but I didn’t have it there,” Schiavone said. “When I made a save, the puck bounced off my pad but I slid over to make save.”
At the end of the day, the kids may have learned a lot, but Winter said that she’s glad to see the program become more successful each year because it’s just one part of the Islanders initiative to help grow youth hockey programs on Long Island.
“It was nice to give the kids at the Pee Wee level their own day,” Winter said. “It shows how much the Jamboree program has grown. Last year we had the Mites and Mini-mites, Squirts and Pee Wee kids all on one day. But this year, because of the enormity of it, we had to break it up. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to do three days. It’s a grass roots initiative and you have to watch grass grow, but it’s growing and it’s great to see.”
The Mites and Squirts Jamboree was held Jan. 16. (Read the Story