BINGHAMTON, NY -- The holiday season is usually a season for joy. We spend time with loved ones, reflect on the year that has come and gone, and give thanks for all that we have. For many people, it is also a time to give back to their communities, whether it is by volunteering time or giving money.
This year, the Binghamton Jr. Senators fed their desire to give back to the community in multiple ways, planning events and service projects to help those in the Binghamton area.
The first of those three service projects was a food drive leading up to Thanksgiving week which Binghamton Jr. Senators coach Anthony Langevin called “Hockey for Hunger”. Players from all three Jr. Senators teams, Jr. A, U16, and U10, paired up to go door-to-door and collect non-perishable food items. Some of the Jr. Senators traveled as far west as Elmira, with others hitting greater Binghamton area cities such as Vestal, Endicott, Endwell, Johnson City, Chenango Bridge, and others.
All of this was done to help the Community Hunger Outreach Program (CHOW), an organization established in Broome County to help combat hunger in the Southern Tier region of New York.
After several days collecting non-perishables, the Jr. Senators collected over 3,500 pounds of food and delivered it to the CHOW warehouse for distribution. The efforts of the Jr. Senators go a long way in helping CHOW fulfill their mission of helping those less fortunate, as their 3,500 pounds of food brought the yearly total of food gathered by CHOW to 13,558 pounds (as of the publishing of this article).
“I’m really proud of our guys for the effort that they put in to this project”, said Langevin. “It got the whole organization involved, from Jr. A’s to U10s, showing that the Binghamton Jr. Senators care about the community as much as the community cares about us. We wish we could have gathered more, but the guys worked hard to ask as many people as possible for donations so that’s all we can ask for.”
While Langevin is proud of the work his teams did in collecting food for CHOW, good luck getting him to hid his pride for the Jr. Senators’ work with the Ice House Hawks, a team from the American Special Hockey Association.
The Ice House Hawks are a hockey team based in Chenango Forks, NY that welcomes children of all abilities and needs to take to the ice. They hold weekly practices and play events and garner support from area hockey organizations, including everyone from the Jr. Senators, from the coaches to the players. Jr. Senators coaches and players attend practices each week to help out where they can on the ice. It is a rewarding experience for everyone at the Jr. Senators and their involvement goes a long way with those members of the Ice House Hawks that they help.
“We are really heavily involved with the Ice House Hawks, it’s the one thing we do as a team on a consistent basis to use our talents to give back to the community” said Langevin. “Hockey is a sport that everyone can play and the Ice House Hawks show that. We do what we can, when we can and in turn, everyone has a chance to enjoy hockey like we do.”
As an added bonus for their involvement with the Ice House Hawks, the Hawks players and their families have become some of the Jr. Senators’ biggest fans this season, attending most, if not all, of the team’s home games. The support does not go unnoticed either.
“We love the support we get from the Ice House Hawks players and their families”, said Langevin. “Them being in the stands means a lot to our coaches and our players and only strengthens the relationships being built week in and week out.”
One way to give back is to use your talents to better someone else’s life. Musicians holding concerts, professionals offering services in their field of expertise, and people preparing meals for those less fortunate, are some of the many examples out there.
What does a hockey team do when they want to use their talents in the same way?
Well, they hold learn to skate classes which is exactly what the Jr. Senators, in conjunction with their home arena, the Ice House Sports Complex, are going to offer come January.
Details for the program are still being finalized, but Coach Langevin is hoping that it attracts interest from people of all ages, from toddlers to adults, and people from outside the Binghamton area.
“We’re really looking forward to getting our Learn to Skate program off the ground” said Langevin. “We’re hoping it will attract people from Syracuse to Wilkes-Barre and everywhere in-between.”
While details will be announced in the coming weeks, what is known is that one night a week, people will be able to join the Jr. Senators and skate for free at the Ice House. More information will be announced in the coming weeks, so make sure to keep an eye out if interested.
So why would the Jr. Senators’ organization put so much of an emphasis on giving back to the community?
To Langevin, the answer is pretty simple: because they can.
Coach Langevin knows that by making community service a focus for his players, they become more than just good hockey players, they become good men.
“For us here at the Jr. Senators, it’s more than hockey,” said Langevin of his team’s community service projects. “We feel doing things like this will make them better people. All of them will have a life outside of playing hockey at some point. Hopefully they’ll look back on these experiences and realize that they’ve become better people, better members of a community, because of them.”
Langevin is also quick to point out that many of his players come from fortunate backgrounds, making it a priority to give back when possible.
“A lot of our guys are fortunate to be in the position they are in”, Langevin stated. “Hockey is an expensive sport to play and these guys have been able to play it for a long time. Their parents have sacrificed plenty to get them here, now it’s their turn to sacrifice a bit to help the people that support them here in town.”
The people of Binghamton have rallied behind the Jr. Senators this season as the team is averaging 409 people in attendance per game, which ranks 11thin the NA3HL and is a large increase from last year’s total.
“We do believe our increase in attendance is a product of us being more involved in the community as it has made the Binghamton Jr. Senator name, and our product, more visible”, said Langevin. “But with that said, we tremendously thankful for the support we receive from the Binghamton community. Our guys feed off the energy in the stands and that has helped us get to this point of the season. We feel that the support should be reciprocal and we have an obligation to give back to the community in any way we can.”
And give back is what they’ve done.
LACONIA, NH -- The New England Wolves are in their 5thseason in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) and their 4thseason in the Eastern Hockey League Premier (EHLP). With each new campaign, the program has made forward strides from the previous year. The team now plays out of the Merrill Fay Arena in Laconia, New Hampshire, and the bond they’ve formed with their local community is unmatched across the league. This was proven true by the Wolves taking home the Humanitarians of the Year Award in both the EHL and the EHLP this past season, an honor voted on by the all the coaches in each division.
“We are the smallest organization and the most geographically remote program in the league,” said Andrew Trimble. “Our community opens its doors to our athletes, who come from all over the world. We pay it forward by having a dedicated community service program within our team culture. Our athletes coach our Learn to Skate program, help with community projects, and do huge fundraisers throughout the season, and it is all part of the Wolves identity.”
Trimble serves as the General Manager for the entire organization, and is also the Head Coach of the EHLP team. Trimble played in a big role in moving the team from Waterville Valley to Laconia, and his overall influence on the program has been beyond critical to the progress they’ve made.
TUSTIN, CA -- Those four words were the first spoken out of WSHL founder and former commissioner Dr. Don Thorne when he sat back and recounted how it was when the Western States Hockey League was formed in 1993.
To understand why Thorne would describe it in that manner, you have to first realize how different the junior hockey landscape was back in the early 1990s. All the preeminent programs resided in the eastern part of the United States. If you were a high-caliber youth hockey player, the only way to further your hockey career was to play at a prep school in the Northeast, a junior team far away from home, or journey to play in Canada. The western half of the United States was devoid of junior hockey teams.
That was until Thorne’s son reached the age of juniors and needed a place to continue his career that did not require being 3,000 miles away from home.
“My son was a really good hockey player but had nowhere to play close to home”, said Thorne. “I thought it would be pretty easy to just start a junior team that would provide an opportunity for him and his friends to continue playing, but it turned out to require a bit more before that was reality.”
Thorne sought out to start the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and approached USA Hockey about certifying the team as a Jr. B USA Hockey program. What he was told next is what got the ball rolling for the establishment of the WSHL.
“The USA Hockey folks told me that we couldn’t have just one or two teams playing as independents, that we needed to have a league with a minimum of six programs to be recognized as USA Hockey programs” said Thorne. “I know there was doubt that we could do it, they questioned whether a bunch of ‘surfers and beach bums’ could play hockey competitively, but we came back to prove otherwise.”
Thorne hit the road and found five other teams to join his Jr. Ducks as the original members of the Western States Hockey League in 1994. The six founding members were the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Arizona Bandits, Las Vegas Junior Aces, San Jose Junior Sharks, Utah Lightning, and Ventura Mariners.
Thorne, a holder of a Ph.D. in Toxicology and Pharmacology and an entrepreneur by trade, did what he could to keep the league solvent. The league buy-in was $15,000 for the original members, just enough to show commitment, but not exorbitant enough to deter parents from becoming owners if they desired, which as it turns out, many did.
The early years were tough. The league, or really Thorne, had to subsidize dues for many teams. But he did so to keep the league together. Thorne knew that there would be growing pains, but he felt eventually, the league would grow to a point where the teams could help each other out and not rely on a single person to do so.
“A lot of people worked to make the WSHL a reality” said Thorne. “I was at the forefront of it all as the league founder, but we had coaches, parents, players, owners all working hard to make this work. We needed to make it work for the kids coming up.”
The WSHL faced quite a bit of turnover from its teams in the early going, with some teams changing ownership and names to others folding completely. Don exhausted his limited contacts in the hockey world, but eventually, his reach ran out. The WSHL did replace many defunct teams with others in the same region, but it wasn’t until 1996 when Thorne approached Ron White, a rink owner in Southern California, with a proposition that the league started to really take off.
White, aside from owning and operating rinks, was the USA Hockey Pacific District Chief and the President of Bomber Hockey, the non-profit organization that ran Southern California Bomber youth hockey programs. Thorne offered White and the Bomber Hockey organization the Jr. Ducks with the understanding that within a couple years, White would then take over as Commissioner of the WSHL. Thorne’s son was no longer playing junior hockey and Thorne thought the team and the league would best be served under White’s tutelage.
The WSHL underwent a massive transformation over those couple years with both Thorne and White leading the way. In Thorne’s mind, however, he had done all he could to get the WSHL off the ground and as with the other companies he has built, he knew it was time to turn the league over to someone capable of bringing it to even further heights. He had that person in Ron White, a true hockey mind, and stepped aside completely prior to the 1998 season.
Heading into the 1998 season, the WSHL only had two original teams remaining, the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, now known as the Southern California Jr. Bombers (today they’re known as the Long Beach Bombers), and the Ventura Mariners, but had added 12 others to play alongside them. The geographic footprint of the WSHL heading into that 1998 divisional season was enormous. There were two teams in California, one in Arizona, one in New Mexico, two in Utah, one in Colorado, two in Nevada, four in Alaska, and one in the Yukon Territory.
The expansive reach of the WSHL did not last long as the financial demands of such travel caused nearly every team to fold within the first couple years of White taking over as commissioner.
“Unfortunately, we had to essentially wipe the slate clean of our teams” said White. “They could not meet the financial demands that playing in the WSHL required of that time. But we rebounded and came back stronger.”
Now back to six teams, the number needed to keep USA Hockey sanctioning, White took a different approach to expansion than his predecessor did. His connections as the USA Hockey District Chief allowed him to approach people, rink owners, coaches, etc., that Thorne did not have connections with. White pitched these people, people he thought would be good owners, on owning a team in the WSHL. Several of them bought in.
Expansion was once again happening for the WSHL, but it was happening at a slow and methodical pace. They got to 10 teams with owners White described as dedicated, and the league started to build from there.
In 2007, the league changed their status as a Tier III Jr. B league to a Jr. A league to attract higher-quality prospects and increase competition. But those next few years brought change that no one saw coming.
Changes were coming at USA Hockey that greatly affected junior hockey leagues. The autonomy that each league enjoyed, which gave them the ability to expand freely and move into various markets, was going to be limited by what White called “lots of red tape”.
The Amateur Athletic Union, known better just as the AAU, pitched all of the junior leagues in the United States on leaving USA Hockey sanctioning and joining the AAU, which promised to maintain the autonomy they were accustomed to.
“For the WSHL to remain viable, we required that ability to expand without getting approval from 10 different organizations” said White. “We have to operate in a number of states and a number of districts because of gaps the desert we have out here causes. The best move for us was to go with the AAU and drop our USA Hockey sanctioning. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a necessary one.”
In dropping its USA Hockey sanctioning, the WSHL did lose a few teams, including the Phoenix Polar Bears, winners of six Thorne Cups. The losses stung, but the opportunities that presented themselves following the move helped ease those losses.
The WSHL was able to add teams from all over the western half of the United States, expanding membership to nine states, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, Oregon, and Washington. This time, expansion came from owners of teams who were dedicated to success of the league and the players that play in it. The financial consideration to join the new WSHL was in the six figures, a far cry from the $15,000 it was to join in 1994.
Between the expanded territorial coverage and the capital investment in both league and team success, the WSHL was making a name for itself in junior hockey circles and teams from other leagues were beginning to take notice. Three teams came over from the Northern Pacific Hockey League, helping membership reach a peak of 29 teams during the 2015-16 season.
A few teams from that high of 29 have ceased operations and a couple more have taken a hiatus but plan to return in a year or two. Today, 23 teams play in the WSHL, including four from the brand new Provinces Division.
The Provinces Division is not something that popped up overnight. It was the culmination of nearly three years of planning. The WSHL Board of Directors conducted research, White made visits to each of the locations petitioning for membership, and finally, the decision to move forward came this summer.
“I had no doubt by the end of the process that this would be successful”, said White. “We placed teams in communities that wanted Jr. A-level hockey, found owners that bought-in to the vision of the WSHL, we did our due diligence.”
The Provinces Division has been a major success so far. It is headed up by Derek Prue, who serves as the WSHL’s Provincial Division Director. He and Mike Murphy, who is a representative of the WSHL Executive Committee, organized a cross-division event earlier this season, where teams from the Northwest Division traveled north to Canada to play six games against Provincial Division teams.
“First off, this first season has been a huge success”, said Prue. “There have been challenges, these four teams started from scratch and with only a few months before the season started, but they’ve navigated the first few months pretty well. Ron and the leadership of the WSHL have been instrumental in making this endeavor successful and deserve to be commended for their expediency.”
The four teams of the Provinces Division, the Cold Lake Wings, Edson Aeros, Hinton Wildcats, and Meadow Lake Mustangs, have been embraced and supported by their hometowns and they’ve responded by being just as involved in their communities. This has resulted in high attendance and a number of sellouts, including several during the cross-divisional games.
The reception of the league’s newest teams has the WSHL looking forward to adding more in other markets in the future.
“Do we anticipate more teams starting in Canada? Absolutely. But it might not just be Canada. As long as it’s a passionate hockey community that would welcome and advance the WSHL mission, we’ll consider it”, said White. “Expansion put us on the map, literally and figuratively. We now have the resources to invest in league operations to make the league more noticeable and a geographic footprint that attracts players from all around the world.”
WSHL teams have players from the United States, Canada, and European countries. Since they are no longer USA Hockey sanctioned, they do not follow the same roster limits as other junior hockey leagues, thus, there has been a large influx of European players in recent years. Overall, the quality of play has improved and increasingly, WSHL players have been receiving offers from NCAA Division I, Division III, and ACHA Division I programs.
Behind a number of those commitments? The Western States Shootout, the annual WSHL showcase held every December in Las Vegas.
The Western States Shootout is in its 18th edition with it being based in Las Vegas for over a decade. The event attracts over 100 scouts annually and continues to grow.
“We wanted to do something different with our showcase”, said White. “We used to hold it in various locations in late September or early October and only had six or so college coaches in attendance. After four years of doing that, we decided to move it to Las Vegas and schedule it in December, when no college teams were playing.”
The move reaped instant benefits. The first year of the Western States Shootout in Las Vegas had 33 scouts in attendance. From there, the event has only grown. This year, the WSHL anticipates over 125 college coaches and scouts will be in Las Vegas, taking in the games at City National Arena from December 18th to the 21st.
“From a coach’s perspective, our showcase is the premier event of the season”, said Long Beach Bombers Head Coach Chris White. “Obviously the Thorne Cup Playoffs are a big deal, but our showcase brings the entire league together. Over the years, the quantity of coaches and scouts in attendance increased, as did the quality. We started getting plenty of DI coaches out here, in addition to the DIII and ACHA DI and DII coaches. It turned out to be a great decision to put it in Las Vegas.”
When you’re in the business of junior hockey, on-ice success comes secondary to player development and advancement. The WSHL, unlike other leagues, do not have alums littering NCAA Division I and Division III teams. The numbers are growing, but many WSHL players find their hockey careers taking them to top universities for their studies.
“Would we like more Division I commits? Sure, I think most leagues would say that” said Ron White. “But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we’re helping our players use hockey to get into school. There are only so many opportunities to play professional hockey, so the education these guys can get because of hockey is far more important in the long run.”
In recent years, the Long Beach Bombers, the league’s only remaining original team, have built a pipeline with New York University. The relationship started at the Western States Shootout a few years ago and has led to half a dozen Bomber players going to NYU to play on their ACHA Division I team while attending one of the most well-respected academic institutions in the country. Those are just some of the many successful recruiting stories the WSHL has been able to boast over the years with many more just like that anticipated in the future.
So with 25 years in the books, how does the man who started it all look back on it now?
“There was a need for junior hockey in the western part of the U.S. and 25 years ago we set out to fill that need” said Thorne. “The WSHL now provides quality hockey in traditional non-hockey playing communities and does it at a level that is good for both the kids and the community. I’m the first to say that the success of the WSHL is all Ron, he’s taken the mission of the WSHL and run with it. It’s bigger today than I ever imagined and that’s because of Ron’s leadership.”
FRASER, MI -- Back in late September and early October, the Metro Jets embarked on a road trip, similar to most teams’ schedules.
This was not your typical road trip though.
From Sept. 29-Oct. 8, the Jets were in China for the Bauer Junior World Cup tournament in Beijing. They played against several countries’ national junior teams and came away with a bronze medal at the event.
The Belarus National Team won gold, while Russia Dynamo took the silver.
The Jets defeated Germany 8-0 to open the tournament, then downed Finland 5-2 before losing to Russia 2-1 and Belarus 3-1 and wrapping up with a 3-2 win over Latvia.
“We are grateful for this opportunity to represent our country at the international stage in China,” said Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville. “The competition was really strong, and it was a great experience for our players to play against some tough national team programs. I am happy our players were able to overcome some of the hurdles and adjustments from traveling so far. You can tell they were slightly jet lagged midway through the tournament, yet we still competed against some national team programs.
“In the end, winning the bronze medal was a great achievement and we will never forget our experience here in China. We would like to thank the Chinese Hockey Federation, the Beijing Hunters Ice Hockey Club and the USPHL for providing us with such a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Everything was first class and professional. The national attention and continued efforts to see the sport of hockey grow in China was special to see firsthand.”
Off the ice, the Jets were able to take in the sights and sounds of China, including the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the city of Beijing itself.
Veteran Jets goalie Brian Tallieu relished the experience overseas and said the jet lag was worth it.
“I’m very thankful to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only represent the USA playing a sport I wake up to every day, but to go to China and I’m grateful for that,” Tallieu said. “An absolutely breathtaking experience going to the Great Wall and Forbidden City. Such an amazing trip and I already miss it.
“The competition was a different style of play than what we were used to. We quickly adapted in the first game, so it was fun to see us play well against some amazing programs. Overall, the boys had an unreal time in China. Made so many memories that will last a lifetime and nothing can take that away from us.”
For Jets captain Jeremy Schwartz, he said the trip was more than the five games on the ice.
“Seeing a whole different side of the world is speechless – not only seeing the mountains and the people, but seeing the Great Wall was unbelievable and I’m glad I had the chance to see it all,” Schwartz said. “The games were different and challenging at the same time, but it was also fun playing against other kids from around the world.
“Nine days with the boys and coaches was a great time and trying new foods and seeing new places with them made it even better. I couldn’t ask for a better team to do it with.”
Back stateside, the Jets and MJDP teams went to Chicago for the USPHL Midwest Showcase.
The Jets defeated the Minnesota Moose, 3-1, fell to the Charlotte Rush 4-3 in overtime, beat the Minnesota Blue Ox, 5-0, and closed out with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Hampton Roads Whalers, who ended October at 17-0.
The Metro Jets Development Program (MJDP) team picked up three wins, defeating the Chicago Cougars, Atlanta Jr. Kings and Decatur Blaze, while falling 1-0 to the Dells Ducks.
TOPEKA, KS -- The Boys & Girls Clubs of Topeka have had some special guests over the last week, from both the Topeka Pilots and Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
Serving over 10,000 youth in the Topeka community through outreach programs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Topeka offers afterschool programming and serves through 10 site locations in and around Topeka.
They provide a number of services, focusing on academic success, healthy lifestyles, good character and citizenship.
Last week, the Pilots welcomed club members when they got off the bus, lining up on both sides to give high-fives as they walked through. Players also stayed for program time and had dinner with club members.
Some of the team also went to the facility’s Teen Center and enjoyed some time with teenagers in the program.
“The Pilots are honored to have the opportunity to work with the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka,” Pilots head coach Simon Watson said. “Our players embrace the chance to bring smiles to the faces of the youngsters in our community. We look forward to more events with the club.”
This week, the visiting Fairbanks Ice Dogs also took some time to visit the Adams Street facility in advance of games this weekend in Topeka. The Ice Dogs face off with the Pilots on October 26 and 27.
Players visited and ate dinner with members, with both players and club members having a great time in the process.
Some of the club members reactions were that “this is the best day ever,” “this makes me feel really happy,” “these guys are pretty cool” and “can I please go through the high five line again?”
This joy was also shared by Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart, who said his players enjoyed it just as much as the members.
“Our players had an awesome time at the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka,” Stewart said. “It was an experience that they will remember, and more important, want to be a part of again in the future.”
Stewart also said he is hoping his team can stop by again once more before the end of the week to spend more time with members.
Dawn McWilliams, Chief Executive Officer of Boys & Girls Club of Topeka, was also thankful the members and players were able to share in these experiences.
“We strive every day for every Club member to experience the optimal Club Experience, a place where kids feel safe, have a sense of belonging and are supported by caring adults,” McWilliams said. “The moment of joy that filled those kids’ hearts and the smiles they exuded when they exited their buses to be greeted by coaches and players from Pilots and Ice Dogs has been imprinted on our hearts forever. Those kids walked taller, smiled brighter and felt prouder as they entered our blue doors and for that we are so very grateful for the greatness that these teams brought.”