USA Hockey presentation, practice a score for Jr. Kings' Bantams

For high-level Bantams, the path to continued maturation into an elite player is a marathon, not a sprint.

That was the message delivered by Ken Martel to a group of Los Angeles Jr. Kings and Anaheim Jr. Ducks 2000 AAA parents at an informational forum tonight (Monday) at El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center.

Martel, who serves as the technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM), along with Ty Hennes, an ADM regional manager who simultaneously addressed the 00 players, spoke to the groups prior to an on-ice ADM practice at the Jr. Kings home facility.

In town to present a case-study overview of the ADM and its positive effect on athlete development at the United States Olympic Academy, Martel, along with Hennes, will conduct the same seminar to Jr. Kings and Jr. Ducks 2001 AAA players and parents at The Rinks-Anaheim Ice on Wednesday.

“This is the age where (players) are starting to get a little bit ahead of themselves as to where they think they’re going to end up, and everybody at the high end of the sport knows that nothing really shakes out until after puberty, late-teens,” said Martel. “This is really early.

“Kids that show some early promise at this age, they may be really good later on, but they may not. Kids that don’t look as promising right now, some of them turn out to be NHL players and star NHL players.”

Martel, a California native (Hacienda Heights) who played his entire youth hockey career locally before advancing to juniors and then a four-year NCAA Division I career at Lake Superior State University, noted that, at 15 years old, a good chunk of the players on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team were considered afterthoughts when it came to their potential to crack an NHL roster.

“And they turn out to be not only NHL players, but world-class NHL players,” said Martel. “That’s common at these ages, and being patient is part of the message.”

And for the players, Martel notes, it marks an age where they need to take a good, hard look at how deep they want to dig in an effort to elevate their games to the next level.

“These are the ages - 13, 14, 15 - where kids are deciding for themselves, either I want to be a hockey player or I don’t,” said Martel. “And the players themselves have to take responsibility for their development.

“Parents can’t do it for you; they get you to the rink, but that’s about it. If you’re going to be a good player, you have to make a commitment; it’s you, personally.

“For us, it’s exposing the kids to some ideas, like goal-setting; if I want to be a player, what do I need to do?”

Nelson Emerson, head coach of the Jr. Kings’ 2013-14 Pee Wee AAA team who also works in the Los Angeles Kings’ player development department, was in attendance and spoke to the value of Martel’s presentation.

“The message was great, and I was glad the room was full (with parents),” said Emerson. “We have good players here (in Southern California); we have good play players here when they’re 12, we have good players here when they’re 16, and that’s why they’re here, because they know that.”

Martel couldn’t agree more with the former NHL forward.

“People know there are good players here; it’s expected now,” he said. “Outside of the Upper Midwest and Northeast corridors of our country - the sort of traditional markets like Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts - California and Colorado are the largest two hockey populations we have (in the U.S.).

“The game has grown, and there's a stream of good players moving on from California every single year. People at the high end of the sport recognize that. They expect players to come out of California. It’s a nontraditional market, but it’s quickly becoming a traditional market for ice hockey.”

And for local kids who think they have to leave home at an early age, Martel believes Californians have all the tools they need to be successful right in their own backyard.

“Kids get good at their local rink; it’s the same everywhere,” he said. “If you’ve got ice, good, quality coaching and there’s people to play against, you’re going to have good players.

“Me being from California, I love watching the game’s growth, and now there’s just so many more opportunities for kids that are all right here.

“That’s our message: Kids here are just like kids from Minnesota, kids from Michigan or someplace else.”