Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey has a new way to launch young hockey players into the game, and it has caught the eye of BC Hockey.
The Little Rustlers program replaces Hockey 1 and 2 in the Ridge Meadows association, and is a skills-based approach. It groups these five- and six-year-olds according to their skill level. Virtually the entire skill set when they are starting out is skating.
The new Little Rustlers generally start out with white skate laces, then when their coaches see they have mastered all of the associated skills, they graduate to blue ones.
The coaches gather all of the players on the blue line on a Saturday morning, and hand the graduates their new blue laces, and a puck with a blue Rustlers logo. All the other players give them the traditional hockey applause – tapping their sticks on the ice.
“We want our athletes to feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement,” said Tyler Harron, the director of Hockey 1-4. “When they move up, they have earned it.”
Then they will be working on new skills that will see them get laces and a puck that is black, red, silver and, finally, gold – six levels over two seasons. By the end of their first four years, the goal is that they be accomplished skaters. However, at this point in the new season, nobody has yet got their silver laces.
And there are still games, with a jamboree every seven weeks. The 134 Little Rustlers get grouped into teams, and play games against other kids at their same skill level.
Harron developed the program along with former director of hockey development James Eccles prior to his departure at the end of September.
“It’s all based on the fundamentals that Hockey Canada has been talking about for years now,” said Harron.
The skills for raw beginners are basic. For example, they need to be able to demonstrate a hockey stance, initiate forward momentum, turn without falling, do a basic stop without falling, get up off the ice without assistance, and skate half the rink without falling. Once they master those and a few more necessary skills, they get their blue laces, and a new set of goals.
Dave Lige, executive director of the association, appreciates the way this new approach has the 28 coaches watching skating, and involved in a steady evaluation of where every player is at in their skill development. They are more intentional about developing skills.
Strong skating will be the foundation of everything else they learn.
“I want to see skating teams,” said Lige, adding that this new program already has kids at public skating with their families, working on the skills they need to advance.
The coaches have an online checklist they access with their smart phones or other devices. They can check off skills as players demonstrate they have mastered them, and parents can also follow their child’s progress.
Lige said this is the first year for Little Rustlers, but so far it is working. It is an approach that should follow players through Hockey 3 and 4, as they learn stick and shooting skills, and more advanced skating.