AAU players visit Red Wings and other tournament stories
The Dyer, IN, 8U Jr. Blackbirds got an additional thrill on their trip to play in the AAU North American Championships in Fraser. On Friday, March 24, their team attended the Red Wings game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While the Wings lost in overtime, the Blackbirds were still thrilled when they were asked to visit the Detroit locker room, sit on the Wings’ bench and meet some of the players.
The invitation was secured by their coach, Liam Garvey, a former professional hockey player who played for Red Wings assistant coach John Torchetti in the minors.
Jason Mindeman, Blackbirds team manager, said Wings defenseman Mike Greene was one player who posed for photos and signed autographs for their players in an experience the kids won’t forget.
“We had an amazing time at the championships,” said Mindeman. “Keith Kloock really went all out – from the format of five games to the swag bag with pucks, T-shirts, towels and color programs. Fraser Hockeyland was a great venue with an amazing Monster arena. Loved the color guard and national anthem. Nice touch.
“Best of all, some great hockey. Some really great teams out there. Congrats to the champion Addison Grizzlies. We look forward to another shot next year.”
Olympian Wells praises AAU’s ‘real hockey’
Olympian and 1980 Miracle Team member Mark Wells said he knew attending the Amateur Athletic Union’s North American Championships in Fraser March 24 might be looked ascant by some hockey people.
After all, USA Hockey, not AAU, was the organizing body of his “Miracle on Ice” Olympic team, and still is.
But Wells said he can’t worry about politics when there are kids involved in learning and playing hockey and having fun.
Besides, as he pointed out, “the AAU was involved with the America’s Olympic hockey before USA Hockey. AAU was there in the beginning.”
Players such as Wells don’t like getting caught up in the argument of the USA Hockey mandate that Mites play half-ice and cross-ice games under the American Development Model.
The approach was the impetus for AAU launching its youth ice hockey movement several years ago.
Instead, AAU promotes a “real hockey” approach that allows Mites to play full-ice games with black pucks and according to all of the rules, like off-sides, icing and having nine faceoff dots, which USA Hockey does not.
Wells, who was born in St. Clair Shores, was a standout center at Bowling Green State University before joining the 1980 Team USA ice hockey team. Of course, this Olympic team was made famous for beating a much heralded Russian team in the semifinal and then taking the gold. A 2004 Disney movie, “Miracle,” relaunched the team’s legendary status.
After watching some of the AAU games, Wells said: “We all grew up playing full-ice. It’s great that kids can play full-ice now. It was good enough for the gold.
“I don’t think confining Mites to two or three sections of the ice does much for them,” he continued. “We learned the game the way it’s been learned for decades. We on Team USA turned out to be pretty good in 1980.
“Yes, we were amateurs when we won and no American team has won since, not even the professionals who play and then go back to making big money. They don’t have the motivation we had.”
Wells volunteered to be on hand during the AAU North American Championships to drop ceremonial pucks for opening games and to meet with the players, encouraging them to work hard, listen to their coaches and always remember to have fun.
“Inviting Mark to help out and talk with our youngsters was probably our best move,” tournament director Keith Kloock said. “Mark is a great ambassador of the game and was an absolute hit with the players. At times Mark was swarmed by dozens of players.”
Wells offered his regrets that he could only attend the first day, due to a previously scheduled Miracle Team event at Lake Placid, NY, a fantasy camp with 56 participants who paid $6,300 to experience “the 1980 feelings” of the Miracle.
Yet he still managed to volunteer a full day of meeting with 7U and 8U players, parents and coaches and give many locker-room pep-talks.
“I would love to be invited back next year and spend the whole three days with the players,” Wells said. “I have fun watching these kids have fun.”
Former NHL player John Blum talks with AAU Hockey players
After Wells left the AAU North American Championships, former NHL defenseman John Blum stepped in.
Blum played with the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitols and Detroit Red Wings. He is a member of the University of Michigan Hall of Fame and now a member of the Detroit Red Wings Alumni team that plays in charity games.
Blum visited locker rooms and talked with players about the importance of studying hard in school. Yet very much like Wells, he stressed to the young players that they should always remember to have fun.
One young player asked Blum if he had scored as many goals as Wayne Gretzky. “Nobody scored as many goals as Gretzky,” he responded. “But I did knock him down.”