This is the third installment of a three-part series highlighting primarily the ‘07, ‘08 & ‘09 birth years - the first groups to come up entirely through KOHA (from Beginning Hockey, 6U and up) under the USA Hockey Model Association development philosophy.
KALAMAZOO, MI - In our first installment of this series, we touched on KOHA’s development philosophy and the journey of being recognized as one of USA Hockey’s original Model Associations. Our second installment included a recap of the District 6 Tournaments, the continued success of the ‘08 birth year, and touched on the birth years that helped pave the way early on in the ADM journey.
The success of our teams with 2009 & 2010 birth year players this season is a testament to development. Like our ‘08 K-Wings, the ‘09 K-Wings will be representing KOHA in the state tournament as the D6 champions and they were LCAHL regular season (Howe 1) champions, and got moved up for the playoffs, competing against Yzerman level teams. Their first LCAHL playoff game ended in a tie, and their second playoff game was their first loss in 21 consecutive games. “It feels great to win this year, as we tied for our league championship last year but lost in a tie-breaker. The success of not only our team, but our entire birth year and those around us - is a true testament to the benefits of being a USA Hockey model program,” says ‘09 K-Wings Head Coach, Jeff Timpe. “I played 9 years of youth hockey with KOHA, and have been coaching for 13 years in the program - over 3 drastically different decades of youth hockey in Kalamazoo. The focus on player and coach development is the key to the growing success of the organization,” Timpe continued. “I believe the focus on skill development over team concepts is changing the hockey landscape and sending us in the right direction. Developing skills first is the most important part of developing young hockey players. KOHA has come a long way over the years and continues to put a focus on our skills team, off-ice training with Athletic Mentors, and coaching development with various Coaches College events throughout the season. I am proud to be part of such a great and innovative organization,” said Timpe.
The entire 10U program - ‘09 and ‘10 birth year players - is having tremendous success this season. Despite some struggles in the Howe 1 Division during the season, the 2010 K-Wings are now 3-0 in LCAHL Playoff games because of the quality of competition they faced during the regular season. And, all four of our 10U House B Bronco teams have seen success this year as well. KOHA 10U Bronco teams filled 4 of the 8 spots in the District tournament. All four had a great tournament, with three of them making the semifinals on Sunday, setting up an ALL KOHA Championship game! In the end, 10U B Brown Broncos defeated 10U B Gold Broncos and will represent KOHA in the State Tournament.
“The talent gap is closing between our players. Roster turnover is a reality - and that is a really good thing from a development perspective,” said Ben Miller, former WMU Bronco Hockey player and current KOHA Skills Staff member and Assistant Coach on the ‘09 K-Wings staff. “When I first got here a few seasons ago, there was a significant talent difference between K-Wings and Broncos players in KOHA. We are now seeing that gap closing which makes the job of coaches and skills staff at tryouts even more difficult,” Miller said. “What’s great is that the kids that end up on a Silver team or a Broncos team work really hard to get back to the top team - and they’re given the development opportunity to succeed,” Miller continued.
“The credentials of our Skills Staff is topped only by the way they engage with our players,” says KOHA’s Hockey Director, Matt Kakabeeke. “Regardless of the team a player lands on (Travel or House B), the development experience is comparable. Same number of ice touches, same access to our skills staff, and the same off-ice experience with Athletic Mentors,” said Kakabeeke. “What our association provides from a development standpoint is second to none.”
One of KOHA’s greatest assets has been it’s off-ice partnership with Athletic Mentors. Their facility inside Wings West provides the opportunity for our athletes to have a team off-ice session after each Skills Night on the ice, and affords all K-Wings and Broncos players the opportunity to take advantage of any open gym session throughout the entire season. “Our partnership with KOHA has been extremely rewarding not only for Athletic Mentors, but the KOHA organization, and most importantly, to all of the athletes involved,” said Athletic Mentors co-owner Mark Olson said. “The primary goal was to elevate the culture of KOHA to a new level through work ethic and commitment. By implementing a professionally managed off-ice program and dedicated facility, we have provided KOHA athletes the ability to fully develop their bodies and maximize their on-ice progression,” Olson continued. “The difference from year one to the present is stunning. The evolution of the players’ development as a whole - both on and off the ice - is visibly evident. The test data proves it and at KOHA, now it’s just part of the culture to train hard off-ice too.”
Ken Rule and his family moved to Kalamazoo from Canada in 2019. He has two sons who both play for KOHA (‘09 & ‘10 K-Wings) this season, and KOHA’s development philosophy was a new experience for their family. “I didn't play hockey, but both my boys started playing in Canada. They obviously do not follow the ADM model, although they are moving to a similar philosophy. While I think it helped their skating, I've seen tremendous development this year in their decision making and stick skills,” Rule said. When asked how important it is for parents to be patient in the process, Rule said, “Patience is hugely important as every kid develops at his own pace. I guarantee there are kids that may not be one of the top players now, but in a year or two, it all clicks and they come into their own. It's all about the kids learning to work hard, being good teammates, and having fun on the ice.”
To the parents that get frustrated at losses to teams that aren’t as skilled, but are coached to play a position, or run a system that might win games but do not simultaneously develop the skills a player will need to play the game at higher levels, Kakabeeke asks, “If the players can’t do something (skill-wise) technically, how can we expect them to do it tactically in game situations? Teaching them the skill first, and creating situations in practice that force them to make tactical decisions utilizing those skills IS development. Anyone can tell players to simply dump pucks down the ice and chase after them - but that is doing a monumental disservice to player development both individually and as an organization.”
“The amount of coaches - and quality of the coaching - on the ice in practice is tremendous. Also, there is never a battle about going to practice. The competitive nature of the drills is fun for the kids and the amount of time on the ice allows them to develop, but also keeps them excited to come back,” said Rule.
Affording every child the opportunity to develop at their own pace, to reach their potential, is what creates hockey players, coaches, volunteers and officials - for life.
This is the third installment of a three-part series highlighting the ‘07, ‘08 & ‘09 birth years - the first groups to come up entirely through KOHA (from Beginning Hockey, 6U and up) under the USA Hockey Model Association development philosophy. While these installments feature the 07/08/09 birth years, we also touch on the birth years who helped forge the pathway (04/05/06), as well as our younger birth years (10/11 and beyond) and their future.