All the elements are in place to get things rolling. Calendar just flipped to August? Check. The Dallas Cowboys grinding away at training camp? Check. Several more weeks of stifling 100-degree temperatures? Check. For thousand of kids across the DFW area these circumstances can only mean one thing, time to start playing hockey again. If you play hockey or know a player of any age, it makes perfect sense. As summer winds down, the excitement to start getting back on the ice only grows stronger for the kids in the Dallas Stars Youth Hockey League. Signups for the 2011-12 season begin this Saturday August 6
, at five area StarCenter locations: Euless, Farmer’s Branch, Plano McKinney and Frisco. From pre-schoolers to high school aged students, the attraction to life on the ice seems to grow with every new season.
“Hockey is a game that attracts different athletes than other sports and their love of the game is also unique,” says Keith Andresen Senior Director, Hockey Programs for the Dr Pepper StarCenters. “I’ve always said hockey combines the contact and speed of football, the hand-eye coordination of baseball and the strategy and skill of basketball or soccer. Put all those elements together, play the game on ice with skates, sticks and pucks and these kids get hooked for life.”
The DSYHL hosts hockey-minded kids from the ages of 4 through 18, starting with Mini-Mites for the youngest skaters all the way up to teenagers of the Midget leagues getting ready to make the jump to their high school or travel teams. As an affiliated member of USA Hockey, all DSYHL levels are taught under the rules and safety guidelines of amateur hockey’s sanctioning body. All DSYHL players will receive a full game and practice schedule, team jersey along with playoff and championship games. All championship teams get their names engraved forever on the league trophy just like the Stanley Cup. Perhaps the biggest attraction is the chance to play at the American Airline Center. Mini-Mites get to skate a “shootout” between periods of a Dallas Stars regular season game. All other age groups play a regularly scheduled game on the same ice that hosts the greatest players in the world.
“Youth hockey in North Texas has grown so much over the last 18 years and the Dallas Stars are proud to be a part of that. My son has enjoyed being able to play hockey in our leagues and being around it has been fun for our entire family,” says Joe Nieuwendyk, Stars General Manager.
“It’s really amazing because you get to play in the Dallas Stars arena and you get to do all the things that the Stars do,” recalls DSYHL player Franklin, age 9. “Skating through the same star as the pros and having your name announced is very cool.”
Since the Stars landed in Dallas in 1993, youth hockey has been a top priority for the organization. Unlike the ‘Three M” hockey hotbeds of Michigan, Minnesota and Massachusetts, extra effort has to be made in Texas to create and maintain successful programs. Ponds and lakes do not freeze over in the Metroplex, so construction of StarCenter rinks was paramount to create enough availability so all teams and players would be able to get the ice time necessary to improve. For the NHL team to grow its fan base it has to be active in the community. The DSYHL allows the next generation of fans to play hockey just like their favorite players and keeps the Stars organization involved with the growth of the sport at the grassroots level.
“It was a conscientious effort by Jim Lites and the Stars organization in the early days to connect with the community and grow the sport. The team has really become the model for creating a youth program in a non-traditional hockey market,” adds Andresen. “Joe Nieuwendyk and this current group have that commitment as well and the team is committed to working more with the youth program in the future.”
“Our hockey team is planning on being more involved than ever before with the youth leagues we run at the Dr Pepper StarCenters. Our players love our game and that started when they were kids. We are committed to helping grow the great game of hockey even more in the Metroplex,” says Nieuwendyk. “The Stars are planning on being a big part of an opening face-off weekend on Aug. 27 in Frisco. Stars coaches will take part in a chalk-talk clinic for local coaches and some of our players will participate in helping with some on-ice drills with local kids who sign up to play this fall. It should be a lot of fun and we are looking forward to it.”
In addition to Nieuwendyk, Defenseman Stephane Robidas
and Head Athletic Trainer Dave Zeis spend their winters focused on the Stars and at the same time, keep an eye on their children playing youth hockey. Former Dallas players like Bob Bassen have made their homes here after their playing days ended. Bassen still contributes to the hockey community by coaching two teams in the DSYHL Squirt division, where a couple of his best players are his sons Brett and Lane.
“I had a lot of fun last year and it just reminds you what a great game hockey is,” he says. “It’s fun for the kids and I really enjoy learning all the personalities of the little players and watching how much they improve from the beginning of the year to the end.”
The goal of the DSYHL is to teach hockey in a safe environment and most importantly make sure the players have fun while playing a great sport. However it is source of pride for any developmental league when a youngster begins skating youth hockey in the local program and goes on to reach great success at the highest levels of the sport. While Texas is known for developing great football players, its mark on the hockey world is starting to grow as well. Past DSYHL players such as David McKee (Cornell, Anaheim Ducks), Anthony Hamburg (Colgate, Minnesota Wild draft pick) and Trevor Ludwig (Providence, Texas Stars) began their careers on DFW ice rinks. The latest to follow in those footsteps might be the best player of them all. Chris Brown, a native of Flower Mound was born in 1991, just two years before the Stars arrived. He began playing at StarCenters, went on to excel at the United States National Developmental Program and the University of Michigan. At the 2009 NHL entry draft, Brown became the highest drafted player from Texas, selected by Phoenix Coyotes round 2 #36 overall 2009 NHL Entry Draft. But true to his roots, the Wolverine still comes back home in the summer to help teach at DSYHL camps.
“I played in the Stars youth program from mini-mite all the way up through my first year of PeeWee. Some of my greatest memories come from playing in the program. Most of my friends played with me growing up and I still keep in touch with them. When you look at the NCAA players that come from Texas more than 50% come from the Dallas area. It was a great time playing in front of my family and friends, experiencing travel teams for the first time and playing with teammates who I still call me friends.” I am back teaching camps with kids from age 4 thought 14 and it’s a lot of fun to come back home and step back on the ice,” recalls Brown.
In the end, it all comes full circle in the hockey world. Chris Brown, arguably the best player in DFW history returns to inspire the next generation. One time players pass the baton as they coach their own children. It doesn’t matter if it’s Duluth or Dallas, hockey moms and dads load up the mini-van to take the team to practice, games and tournaments. Best of all for the players lifelong memories are made with first goals, saves and wins to be shared forever with teammates and friends. While the thermostat outside reads in the triple digits, for the players of the DSYHL the fever is just as high to get back on the ice and start playing again.Bruce LeVine is the post-game co-host for Dallas Stars road games on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket. Email Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BruceLeVine22