NEWINGTON, CT -- Make way for the Connecticut Chiefs – the youth organization operating out of Newington, Conn., will ice its first-ever junior teams in 2018-19.
The Chiefs, who purchased the franchise previously held by the Connecticut Oilers, will field teams in the Eastern Hockey League and EHL Premier next season.
This team is holding open tryouts, but former Oilers players eligible to return to junior hockey are certainly in the plans for the Chiefs.
“We’ve talked to all of those players who are not aging out, and we’re really excited about bringing those guys up through the Chiefs program,” said Chiefs president Brandon Johnson.
“We’re really excited about having the junior team. We have the path from Mite all the way to college hockey,” Johnson added. “We’ve always had strong Midget programs over the years, and we just joined the fantastic Tier-1 Atlantic Youth Hockey League last year. In terms of building a program, we’re giving our players, and their families, the best opportunity to advance to college hockey.”
The Chiefs have youth alumni who are committed to such schools as Boston College, Providence, Boston University, Dartmouth, St. Lawrence and Harvard.
A recent member of the Chiefs, Chris Adamson, moved on from the youth program to the Taft School and from there to the New Hampshire Avalanche, which won the EHL championship as a first-year team on March 25. He has committed to Connecticut College. Additional Chiefs youth alumni will go to similarly strong Division 3 schools to play hockey, including Trinity, Middlebury, Tufts and Williams.
“The junior teams will be a nice capstone to our program,” said Ben Adams, who will be the Chiefs’ EHL Premier head coach. “Previously, we ended the program at U16. There is a lot of excitement. This gives opportunities for some of our players who went the high school path to continue their careers, and it gives opportunities for prep and junior players who graduated our youth program to come home to a strong support system.”
Kevin Cunningham, the EHL Chiefs head coach, said that he is very excited to be joining the Eastern Hockey League, the U.S. junior leader in NCAA Division 2 and 3 placements.
“I think the EHL is the best place in the East to do this for a number of reasons,” Cunningham said. “As a league, we understand who we are and who we serve – we are primarily a Division 2 and 3 feeder. There is buy-in on that front.
“Our teams are autonomous. There are not a lot of outside pressures, so we are able to do what is in the best interests of our players and focus all our energies on player development,” Cunningham added. “I also know that the coaches around the league are respected. I know that firsthand from my time coaching at Connecticut College. The league’s coaches do a really good job of relating to their players and helping them develop and move on.”
The Chiefs and Oilers completed the sale and franchise transfer in early winter, allowing the Chiefs to hire Cunningham and Adams early enough for extensive recruiting time.
“We put our junior staff in place the first week of January,” said Johnson. “We named Yvon ‘Ike’ Corriveau, a former Hartford Whalers, NHL player and first round NHL draft pick, as our vice president, coaching director and director of player development. We have also named Kevin Cunningham as EHL head coach and Ben Adams as EHL Premier head coach.
“I’m looking forward to helping out the coaching staff and utilizing my experience and knowledge of the game,” Corriveau said.
“The boys have been out recruiting, and working their contacts and relationships,” added Johnson.
Cunningham brings more than 20 years of experience to the Chiefs’ coaching staff. He has been coaching in Connecticut since 2010, with positions at his alma mater Connecticut College, as well as Cheshire Academy and the women’s program at Wesleyan University.
He also coached with the women’s programs at Ohio State, Providence and Brown over his career.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the course of my career is that players like to be challenged and engaged in their development. They want to play in important situations,” said Cunningham.
“Priority No. 1 is that we want our kids to have a good experience, but also to get better. Our job is to identify kids who have not just the potential, but the wiring where they want that environment, they want to be challenged. I want my players to go to college and get a really good education and have hockey supplement that. We want them to be student-athletes, not athlete-students.”
Adams has experience across a wide pantheon of hockey – Tier-1 Midget, NCAA Division 1, ACHA Division 2. He was an assistant and strength and conditioning coach for three years with American International College (NCAA Division 1).
“I’ve been with the Chiefs for four seasons, coaching everything from U16 down to anywhere that a coach was needed,” said Adams. “The relationships in the hockey industry are second to none. Once you build the contacts, from there, you can build everything else.”
Both Cunningham and Adams have utilized their contacts to build a list of players they’re hoping to see at tryouts. Those tryouts will be held April 21-22. Full details and a registration form are available online at www.ctchiefshockey.com.
“I’ve had some really good contact with a number of players,” said Cunningham. “I think in the next week to 10 days, we’ll start to get commitments from guys who know what we have to offer, who feel we fit their needs and who know we offer the path to the future they’re excited about.
“We’re chasing guys in every setting in the Northeast – prep, junior, Connecticut high school, U18 Midget,” Cunningham added.
Located at Newington Ice Arena, the players will get a chance to train off the ice at Future Fitness Pro, located within the rink. Adams and the regular Future Fitness Pro staff will work with Chiefs players.
The Newington Ice Arena is also building new locker rooms for each of the EHL and EHL Premier teams, setting up an environment where players will truly feel at home.
And, with the right team in place, the Chiefs saw with the recent EHL playoff victory by the first-year Avalanche that anything is possible.
“I have so much respect for what the Avalanche did,” said Cunningham. “I know from being on the ground floor of a program – having been the first assistant coach with Connecticut College’s women’s program – how rewarding and how challenging it can be. I was talking to a young man who said ‘I’m not sure I want to go to a new program,’ and I told him, ‘You do realize that a new program just won this league, right?’ It was interesting for him to see it from that perspective.”
The players with not just the most talent, but the most cohesiveness and the best culture, will always have a chance to win the championships – and attract the most scouting.
“Teams have come in and done their homework and prepared well and been competitive,” said Cunningham. “That is one of the reasons that drove me to this organization. With Brandon bringing us on board earlier, it speaks to the commitment our organization has to being successful, but defining that success in terms of player development and advancement. “Wins are an ancillary benefit,” he added. “You won’t hear me talking a lot about the wins and losses, but how we’re playing, how our guys are showcasing themselves. If we do that well, we can have fun and be successful.”
For more information, contact Brandon Johnson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 860-614-9480. Also, be sure to visit www.ctchiefshockey.com.
Kevin Cunningham - EHL Head Coach
Yvon ‘Ike’ Corriveau - Vice President, Coaching Director, and Director of Player Development