Letter from the President

September 6, 2022

Dear AHA Families,

On behalf of the AHA Board of Directors, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2022-23 hockey season, and my honor to serve as the president of this amazing organization. 

This will be my fourth year on the Board, seventh as an AHA member, and eleventh as a hockey parent and coach; all together, I have spent more than forty years involved in the best sport in the world.  I grew up in a hockey family – my grandfather, father, and brother all played, while my mom knows more about the sport than all of us combined.  I played youth hockey in Arlington and for Austin Prep during my high school years, then attended Holy Cross where I participated in club hockey and also served as a student coach for the women’s hockey team.  My hockey career since then has involved a lot of late nights and/or early mornings at various rinks (including one memorable weekend in Montreal) trying to recapture a little of those old glory days. My wife Danielle and I have three children in AHA – our twin sons Gavin and Liam, who just started their sophomore year at Andover High School and play for the AHA’s High School Half Season program and for AHS; and our daughter Elizabeth, a sixth grader at Doherty Middle School who is member of AHA’s girls U-12 team.  We share our home with our beagle Cooper who, if you live nearby, you’ve probably heard.

This summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about my goals for this season as AHA's president. I’ve had dinner with several past AHA presidents, and spoken with lots of former and current Board members, coaches, and families. I’ve reached out to youth hockey leaders in other communities and also met with the leaders of other youth sports organizations here in Andover to exchange ideas and try to figure out how we can work together to make things more coordinated and efficient. I have heard many great things about AHA – as well as some fair criticisms. 

As president, I owe a fiduciary duty to AHA and its members to manage the association in a financially responsible manner that is consistent with our Mission Statement. Therefore, it is my goal to enhance the overall AHA Experience for all members – players, coaches, and families – by focusing on that mission statement. Our mission statement has three main prongs. First, AHA’s mission is to organize and promote a fun, safe, and developmentally rewarding hockey experience. Second, we are a family-centered organization. Finally, it is in our mission to serve the community.

Fun

That first prong is broken into three parts: fun, safety, and development. The “fun” part should speak for itself. It is our job as parents and coaches to make youth sports a fun experience for our kids. That includes the car ride home after a tough performance and invoking the “24-hour rule" regarding any non-urgent communications with coaches. Showing respect for the opponent, opposing coaches, the opposing team’s parents, and (perhaps the most challenging) the referees is also expected. We are all role models for our children and unsportsmanlike conduct at AHA events will not be permitted. It’s not fun when mom and dad are yelling in the stands or giving you the silent treatment on the drive home.

It has been well publicized that youth sports nationwide are facing a shortage of officials. AHA is working to ensure that none of our games will be cancelled due to a lack of referees by encouraging interested members to register as on-ice officials. Through AHA's Officiating Reimbursement Program, AHA will cover registration fees for current members (high school and younger) who get patched to work AHA games for the 2022-23 season. Please contact our Treasurers Sal & Kristy DiAgostino for more information.

Generally speaking, the more creative an experience is, the more fun it can be. I challenge all coaches, managers, and parents to think of innovative and inspired ways to make this season an enjoyable experience for your children and your teams. Please share your ideas on how to make this season fun with Fred Porter, our VP for Member Relations. From Bruins games and outdoor skates, to tournaments at Waterville Valley and Jay Peak, to pool and pizza parties at a teammate’s house, we want all AHA kids to associate their AHA experience with fun on - and off - the ice. 

In partnership with the Andover High School boys’ and girls’ hockey programs, we are also bringing back our “AHS Player of the Game” program this winter, and encouraging all our youth teams to support the Andover hockey community by proudly wearing AHA jerseys to school and to AHS boys and girls games.  

We also want the community (and beyond) to know how much fun it is to be a part of AHA. To that end, we are working to grow our social media presence, including expanding to platforms such as TikTok that appeal to our younger members (and potential members). Fran Walker, our Social Media director, is the point person for this initiative.  We are looking for high school aged members and college aged alumni to help as our new Social Media Interns.  If you are interested in learning more about this program, please contact Fran.  I’m pleased to note that one AHA alumnus who is a current senior in college reached out to us - unsolicited - this summer to volunteer already. And, of course, please be sure to follow us on Facebook and share your pictures and videos with us during the season.

Safety

The safety and well-being, both physically and emotionally, of all our members is our paramount concern. You likely have seen media attention given recently to the inappropriate and at times criminal behavior of youth sports coaches, including some youth hockey coaches in Massachusetts. All AHA coaches must be USA Hockey certified, including passing a background check and completing SafeSport training. If you have any concerns in this area please contact our compliance director Kevin Cormier and me immediately. 

Parents, please remind your players of our locker room policy and discipline policy. Bullying, hazing, and inappropriate speech or conduct of any kind will not be tolerated. And, as an aside, there is no need for a youth player to have a cell phone in the locker room or on the ice (amazingly, I’ve witnessed a phone fall out of player’s pants while on the ice... the referee didn’t really know what to do so just handed it back to the player at the next whistle.). At a minimum, it causes a distraction and at worst can lead to far more unacceptable situations. If your player needs to bring his or her phone to a practice or game in order to communicate with you or otherwise to arrange for a ride home, please tell them to give the phone to a coach for safekeeping until leaving the rink.  

We are fortunate to hold practices and games at the Phillips Academy Ice Rinks complex, and appreciate the efforts of Matt Gray and his staff in providing us with a world class facility. Please do your part to keep locker rooms and common areas clean and respect the rules of the rink. This goes for the parking lot too, which is especially important in the winter when there are rows of cars double parked with their engines running in the pickup lane and our littlest members are trying to navigate snowbanks and icy walkways in the dark while dragging a bag and a stick.

Lastly on the topic of safety and wellbeing, it goes without saying at this point, but if your player is sick, please keep them away from AHA events until they are feeling better. Common sense dictates showing this courtesy to your teammates and their families.

Player Development

AHA is always working to improve the development of our players, and I am proud of the package we can offer this season. First and foremost, we have an army of dedicated volunteer coaches and managers – moms, dads, grandparents, and friends - who devote countless hours to your children. We have coaches who have played high level college and even professional hockey. Some of our long time coaches and board members like Dan Archambault, Kevin Cormier, Rick Falzone, and Matt Kiley are at or approaching a thousand hours of youth hockey experience. All of our coaches from Learn to Skate through High School will be provided with the tools to plan and execute challenging and efficient practices and to manage the bench appropriately during games.

Second, we have engaged with professional skills providers who will train our travel teams with the highest level of expertise - all included in your base AHA tuition. Jon Hutcheon and his team at Elev802 Boston have developed an age and skill based hockey curriculum for each level. Pat Gigante and his team at XP will work with players off the ice in their brand new facility to improve their agility, balance, coordination, and flexibility. Erika Hammar and the Empower Hockey team will literally train your hockey player how to be a better ice skater. And Steve Mastalerz and the GDS team will train the most important members of the team, our goaltenders.

On the topic of goalies, the AHA Board has recognized that we need to do more to attract and retain goalies at all age levels. To that end, as a part of AHA’s Goalie Initiative we have discounted goalie tuition at all levels and offered special training through GDS year round. We are also piloting a free program for non-full time goalies to try some training at GDS – this would be especially useful on younger teams where players still “pass the pads” each week. That said, we still have needs at certain age levels for goalie, so anyone is welcome to give it a try! We will help you with equipment and training to make sure the experience is as user friendly as possible.

The Board is also invested in the future of AHA’s Girls’ Program. In addition to our full season teams at the U-8 through U-14 levels and fall half season U-16 and U-19 teams, this winter AHA will feature supplemental “game only” girls teams at U-12 and U-14. Both full season AHA U-12 and U-14 players and non-current AHA members are welcome to try out for these teams. The goal of this supplemental program is to welcome back to AHA girls who live in Andover but play for other programs, and to give them an opportunity to play with their friends, neighbors, and classmates at a high level of competition. More information about this program is forthcoming, but if you have any questions please contact our girls director Alex Balford. I’m also pleased to note that AHA will be hosting the Mass Hockey Girls Tier III State Tournament this March (apologies to those who enjoyed the drive to Springfield).

Some of the most common complaints about youth hockey are that the season is too long, it’s too expensive, and it is a hard sport to break into at an older age. To address some of those concerns, this winter we will be piloting an AHA Recreational Hockey program for boys and girls ages 9-14. The season will run from after Thanksgiving until mid-March, with no games over the holiday break; the cost will be very reasonable; and the idea is to give those “late bloomers” a chance to give hockey a try. It’s also geared at kids for whom hockey is not their primary activity, such as basketball players or skiers, with games scheduled for late afternoon on Sundays. Please pass this information along to anyone who might be interested. For more information, and to register, please see here

If you have any questions about AHA’s offerings this season, including our skills programs or our player development initiatives for goalies, girls hockey, or rec hockey, please contact AHA’s director of coaching and player development Rich Enos or me.

Family

I often joke that when we were contemplating a move back to the Boston area several years ago, the first thing my wife did was contact a real estate agent, while the first thing I did was to start researching youth hockey programs.  That is a bit exaggerated, but when I first reached out to AHA to inquire about joining the program, I was welcomed warmly by AHA Board members and coaches such as Pete Vaccaro, Matt McLaughlin, Bob Hauser, and Dan Zuccaro.  It is my goal to make sure every new AHA family has a similar positive experience. To that end, I am proud to announce the first season of the AHA Family Mentoring Program. The goal is simple – to connect families new to AHA with veterans in an informal setting. For the new families, the mentor family can be a resource for questions you might have about topics related to hockey (Do the socks go over the shin guards?), the AHA (What is the ‘Placements Committee’?), or Andover generally (Where’s the best pizza in town?). If you are interested in participating in this program, either as an AHA “vet” mentor or as a new family, please let Fred Porter know.

Part of being a family-centered organization is also remembering our roots and our history. This season, we will be expanding the scope of our annual Thanksgiving Weekend Heseltine Memorial Mite Tournament to include a celebration of all AHA alumni who are no longer with us. We are planning an alumni game and other programs, in addition to the traditional exciting action on the ice featuring our mite all-stars. If you would like to be involved with this event, please contact me.

Community

AHA is fortunate to have a strong, vibrant, and talented membership core, most of whom have the means to enjoy participating in activities and experiences such as youth hockey. However, at some point all of us encounter difficulties in life – be it job loss, illness, or death of a loved one. Taking care of our fellow members is at the core of what makes AHA such a special organization. It is my promise AHA will help any member who is struggling with the cost of tuition. Please contact our Treasurers Sal & Kristy DiAgostino to confidentially discuss your family’s needs.

AHA is also called to serve the greater community beyond our membership. We’re proud to be associated with local programs that benefit our neighbors in need, such as shoveling snow for seniors through Andover Elder Services, and donating clothing and food to organizations such as Lazarus House. We also support hockey related charitable endeavors beyond Andover’s borders, such as the Wounded Warriors sled hockey program (for whom last year our Bantam 1 team raised over $2000).

As a non-profit organization which needs to charge tuition to cover ice rental, league fees, uniforms and equipment, skills vendors, and other expenses, AHA depends on the generosity of its members and sponsors to drive these community based charitable initiatives. If you are interested in learning more about AHA’s Fundraising Program, or to discuss a donation or sponsorship, please contact Gia Cyrier, our director of fundraising.

Start of the New Season

Practices for nearly 500 members begin this week and have been loaded onto to the AHA website (hosted by our wonderful partners at Crossbar) through mid-November. You can learn how to sync your personal device here. Returning families may remember that the practice schedule shifts somewhat starting around Thanksgiving because the Phillips Academy teams begin their season and so we do lose a few hours of ice each week thereafter. We are working on ways to manage that shortfall creatively and cost-effectively over the winter.

Registration remains open for our Mite House League. Contact Mite Director Joe Barbagallo or MHL Commissioner Bob Romano for details or to get involved and please spread the word. Practices start this week but teams won't be formed until games start in October so there is still plenty of time to sign up.

Registration is now open for our Learn to Skate and Learn to Play programs which start in early October. Contact Initiation Director Shawn Furey with any questions and also please spread the word to anyone interested.

At the other end of the career arc, registration is now also open for the fall season of our adult Warrior Cup league which starts September 18th. Contact Bob Kenny with your career stats and highlight reels if you’re interested. 

Thank You and Get Together

In conclusion, I’d like to express my appreciation to last season’s board members, especially Mike Stevens. Mike and I have spent lots of time together over the years and especially this summer discussing the future of the AHA, and he left us with a solid framework to continue the great work of this organization. I’d also like to acknowledge our new and returning Board members for their tireless efforts this summer to get ready for the season, including Rich Enos, Fred Porter, Kevin Cormier, Sal & Kristy DiAgostino, Ed Donnelly (VP for business and operations), Andrea Igo (scheduler), Tim & Ann Swan (registrars), Kevin Davis (secretary), Diana Petersen (equipment), Rick Falzone (VHL representative), and all our age level directors who are still jugging rosters this morning. I’d especially like to recognize the efforts this summer by Andrea and others putting together the schedule.  Everyone would love the 6:30pm practice slot on Tuesdays and Thursday, and we have done our best to come up an equitable, efficient, and predictable schedule for all teams. 

Finally, I would like to cordially invite you to Oak & Iron on Wednesday, October 12, for AHA’s annual coaches and parents “Meet & Greet” Social. Please register here and contact Gia Cyrier or our special events coordinator Steph Howard for more details. 

***

To many, Labor Day is more of a milestone than New Year’s. With the chaos of back to school and the start of a new schedule of activities, it can be easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget to appreciate the little joys in life. This is especially true of the hockey season, which is a grind. It’s tough getting up for those 6:30am games on Sunday mornings when you’ve had a late night, it’s pitch black and ten below, and your kid is playing a team that beat them 7-2 last time. Marlboro is far away and the parking lot is bigger than an airport. And some towns I won’t mention by name always have that annoying parent wearing a jersey with their kid’s name on the back who brings a cowbell and videos the whole game with commentary more biased than Jack Edwards. But, as the father of two sons who have already aged out of “youth” hockey, I would encourage you to stop and appreciate the ebb and flow of it all, because it really does all go by so fast. Take the opportunity during one of those early morning rides to the rink to really talk to your child. Make friends with the new family on the team and invite them over for a drink. Share a Box of Joe with the parents from Wilmington or Tewksbury. Take a video of your son or daughter this weekend and then take one at the end of the season and compare it to see the differences, not just in their skating but how they different are – how they look, how much taller they are, how else they’ve grown. The little things like that are what matter and are why we are here as parents, coaches, and Board members. I wish you all a fun, safe, and rewarding season.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help make your AHA experience all that it can and should be.

Sincerely,

Tim Bennett

AHA President

781-883-7967


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