Kings’ Cup Victory Should Add To California’s Already Strong Hockey Momentum

 Kings’ Cup Victory Should Add To California’s Already Strong Hockey Momentum

By Chris Bayee
California Rubber Magazine

The numbers don’t lie. Grass-roots hockey in California was on a roll even before the Los Angeles Kings’ dominant run to the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 45-year history.

According to USA Hockey figures released recently, the state had the sixth-most registered players in the nation (behind only Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York and Illinois). California’s 24,101 participants were a record amount for the second season in a row and represented a nearly 10 percent jump from 2010-11’s 22,305.

To put those numbers in perspective, national participation grew 2.1 percent, with the biggest jumps in the 7-8 (4.3 percent), 9-10 (3 percent) and 11-12 (3.9 percent) age groups.

In California, the biggest increases came in adult players and 8U, where participation skyrocketed 14 percent.

“The USA Hockey numbers are looking great, especially at 8U and 6U,” CAHA president Steve Laing said. “With the Kings winning the Cup, we’ll have another push, at least another 10 percent, and it could be as much as 20 percent.”

That sort of increase would mirror what the Anaheim Jr. Ducks experienced after their NHL brethren captured the Cup in 2007.

“After the Ducks won, we saw a 20 percent increase for the 2007-08 season; every program was packed,” Jr. Ducks president Art Trottier said.

Should those predictions hold, California could surpass Illinois (with 26,470 players) for the fifth-most U.S. participants.

The Kings’ triumph should only help, though for now the interest seems highest in the greater Los Angeles area. Among the places it’s been most acute is at the Kings’ practice facility, the three-sheet Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.

“We are seeing a lot more foot traffic at the rink during public ice sessions,” said Jr. Kings executive director Kelly Sorensen. “You see a lot more involvement in the hockey camps. (The Cup) has definitely had an impact on the foot traffic.”

Long-time Southern California youth hockey coach, administrator and retailer Larry Bruyere expects introductory programs, such as learn to skate and learn to play, to reap the most immediate dividends.

“Registration numbers are certainly going to increase,” said Bruyere, who operates Channel Islands Ice Center and also is USA Hockey’s Pacific District coach-in-chief. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook, and we’re located in an area where hockey is not native. The immediate increase is going to come from those just coming in. Hopefully by next year you’ll see some increases in travel hockey.”

Interest in Orange County has been more tepid, several club officials said.

“Back in the Ducks’ run there seemed to be more interest,” said Fred Nelson, the hockey director at Aliso Viejo Ice Palace. “We’re getting more calls but not like before, and not as much as I thought we would. I’m hoping for more.”

All agreed the attention the Kings brought to the sport was priceless. California Heat director of player development Alec Dunn noted a large increase in walk-in traffic during Kings telecasts at the Los Angeles Kings Valley Ice Center in Panorama City.

“We had clinics going on during the playoff run, and we saw a lot of people coming to the rink to watch the game, not really skating,” Dunn said. “Then they’d look around, see the ice. It’s the best thing that could have happened. I’m hopeful that brings more kids through the doors, even if just to try skating. Then they’ll see hockey and other programs.

“You might be able to get some of these athletes who never would have considered it.”

Added Bruyere: “The timing was perfect. The Lakers and Clippers had both dropped out. The kind of exposure the Kings got on TV, even if just for a minute or two, raises the profile of the entire spot and can lead to so many things.”

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