TAYLOR MORRISON/ JOURNAL TRIBUNEMaine Wild Youth hockey players practice during skills session.

TAYLOR MORRISON/ JOURNAL TRIBUNEMaine Wild Youth hockey players practice during skills session.

BIDDEFORD — On the same night Disney on Ice visits New England, Biddeford hosts its own rotating swirl of primary colors on ice. In a host of red, blue, green, black and white, Maine Wild Youth hockey facilitates bi-weekly skills sessions for their Peewee and Squirt teams at the Biddeford Ice Arena. 

The Squirt and Peewee teams practice under the USA Hockey ADM (American Development Model). Brad Church, the Wild Squirt coach and director of the Wild youth program, said, “we break the ice into smaller sections for kids this age. You know sometimes they get on the full ice and it looks like an ocean to them out there. So we break the ice into smaller sections, give them more puck touches and start working on their game in a little more of a confined area.” 

TAYLOR MORRISON/ JOURNAL TRIBUNEMaine Wild Youth hockey players practice during skills session.

TAYLOR MORRISON/ JOURNAL TRIBUNEMaine Wild Youth hockey players practice during skills session.

Calls of, “fight for your space!” issue from volunteer coaches amid an echo of puck slaps, wall rattles, and children’s voices. With at least six coaches visible on the ice at all times, more than thirty skaters, at least 6 female skaters and one female coach, this is a diverse program. 

The players rotate through six stations with a coach at each, so individual attention is assured in small groups of five. At each station, players practice a different skill with a volunteer coach. 

TAYLOR MORRISON/ JOURNAL TRIBUNEMaine Wild Youth hockey players practice during skills session.

TAYLOR MORRISON/ JOURNAL TRIBUNEMaine Wild Youth hockey players practice during skills session.

At one station, two competing players run a hard start lying flat on the ice and at the whistle they race to pick themselves up, skate around two gym-mat type barriers with an emphasis on making tight, low corners, then battle over a puck and try to put it in the net. Then, they repeat the same exercise skating backward around the barriers. 

It is a very impressive spectacle, to say the least. Some of the younger players demonstrate exceptional speed and show a lot of promise throughout their training sessions. There are no half-hearted efforts here. Despite the small groups and young age of the players, no one hangs back.

Three stations have live goalies in the net and skaters navigate different obstacles at each station to get to the goal to try to make the shot. Much like a condensed clinic, the emphasis here is definitely on efficiency of ice time for individual improvement and training.  Some coaches even start with a small lesson on foot position, form and stick direction. 

At another station, players practice the finer motor skills of puck handling, putting their gloves down in pairs on the ice and guiding the puck around their gloves in figure-eights using both sides of the stick. 

“Turn the gloves into a pair of shoes, turn the puck into a tennis ball, and turn the ice into your driveway or your basement,” said Church, advising players on how they could practice at home with everyday materials. 

“I grew up in Western Canada and up there, there’s indoor rinks and we played street hockey all the time, so it’s little things like that you can do outside of the arena that can help your skills. It’s much like working out in a gym, if you’re working on the physical part of your body in a fitness center as opposed to a rink, why can’t you take your stick and your gloves and a ball and try to work on your skill set a little bit with just some creative little things outside the rink?”

Church places emphasis on creating accessibility to practicing hockey skills without hassle, so that lack of ice time is not a barrier to young players practicing at home. 

“Nowadays they’re going to go home and grab their video game or their iPhone as opposed to kick a soccer ball or work on their stick handling, so just trying to consistently remind them there’s some things they can do outside the rink to improve their game,” said Church.

As active as Church himself is in the hockey community, he is humble and quick to remind, “none of that stuff can happen without good volunteer coaches. There’s five other people on the ice that are volunteering their time. That’s important too, to have kids that love the game and parents and volunteers and coaches that are willing to get out there and help too.”


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