A regularly scheduled Annual Voting Member Meeting of the Darien Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) took place on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at Darien Library.  Present board members were Art Flynn, Buzz Olson, Jeff Eccleston, Pat Mullin, Dawn Bryson, Dave Kreppein, Larry Paredes, Mary Jo Dyer, David Hill, Lisa McCarthy, Tom Raymond and Gigi Williams.  Present Team Voting Members were Dan Boland, Kari Cardone, Lyle Carter, Rich Conway, Mark DeAngelis, Jeff DiRaffaele, Jake Elwell, Bruce Ferguson, Dave Hazelton, Ian Hobbs, John Hurkala, John Keleghan, Christine Kellogg, Maureen Roach, Margot Krotee, Kevin Kuryla, Christian Matzelle, Allison McDermott, Ron Mulliken, Kelly Murphy, Lars Noble, Eric Oziemblewski, Doug Perkins, Stephanie Riggio, Karl Slatoff, Rick Stahl, Dan Wadleigh, Rob Weibel, Susan Williams and Wendy Zalinsky.


With a quorum present, the meeting was called to order at 7.35pm.


President’s Update

Art Flynn welcomed all present and thanked the voting members for attending, and for taking on the role of ambassador for both their team and the DYHA board, relaying information to and from their team members.  He introduced recently appointed Association Vice-President Buzz Olson and invited the board to introduce themselves to the Voting Members.


Key Highlights:

1)      The Board of the Association continues to have the players of DYHA at the center of its efforts.

2)      The unique, robust House Program, fostering love of the game and recreational play remains the base of DYHA membership with 61% of the Association’s players. 

i)        Overall number of participating players stable year-on-year

ii)       36 House Teams, 20 Travel Teams, 4 Development Teams – with Girls continuing to make up 24% of all players

iii)     Financial Standing – the Association maintains a balanced budget, with a $1.4million Operating Budget.  The association is fiscally sound, with the goal of offering a good product while keeping costs down.

iv)     The 13 member board is supported by over 100 volunteers and 22 paid coaches.  Volunteer opportunities exist each season as board positions turn over.  Families of younger skaters are encouraged to get involved.

v)      Geographically DYHA continues to serve our charter towns of Darien, New Canaan and Norwalk, with the proportion of charter town residents remaining stable at 82%.

vi)     Player movement within and out of the program was discussed.  45 players released to other programs.  12 Players made USA-Hockey Affiliated Tier 1 teams.  16 players who cleared the DYHA waitlist and 4 non-registered players made a travel team.  20 House players made a Travel Team for the first time.  The House Co-Directors were commended for their internal growth of quality players.  The robust waitlist continues to keep the house program at capacity.

3)      Travel Program

i)        Revamped Monday Night Skills program with increased on-ice staffing including Darien High School boys and girls captain volunteers has seen high participation rates.

ii)       Goalie Clinics continue to be a focus – with both instruction to travel goalies and “Try Goalie for a Day” sessions run by the association’s goalie development coordinator ProCrease.

iii)     Mite C continues to evolve with 6-year olds participating in cross-ice portion of season.

iv)     DYHA Alumnus and current Pee Wee A1 coach Pat Gore recently named New Canaan High School head coach.

v)      Improved Midget numbers at both the Minor and Major age group highlighted.  The Tier 2 players and coaches congratulated on their 2 silver medals at November 2014 CT State Championships.

vi)     The Ice Cats girls’ program continues to thrive, with U12 A the winner, and U14A the runner-up, at both the CT State and New England Regional Championships.

vii)   Two girls teams added for a total of 9 team from U8 to U19.

4)      House Program

i)        2014-2015 Senior Majors and Minors at full capacity.

ii)       Senior Majors include High School players from local independent schools, which is indicative of quality of play and continued development opportunities found at this age group.

iii)     Senior House benefits from experienced and committed volunteer coaching staffs

iv)     Senior Minors had the opportunity to compete in 15 Inter-House games with neighboring programs such as Rye.

v)      Junior House (Mini- and Mighty-Mites, Mites and Squirts continue at capacity

vi)     As of January 1, 2015, all 5 Mighty Mite teams will participate in the CPCT cross-ice league, along with the continued mid-week instructional partnership with Blueline Hockey Academy.

vii)   Squirt team format fosters “real game feel” with no taping of helmets.

viii)  Junior house continues to benefit from the involvement of experienced parent volunteer coaches.

5)      Community Service Initiative continues with all teams encouraged to perform an outreach program of some kind during the season. There are also association-wide undertakings. With service projects as diverse as baking holiday pies to raising funds and awareness for cancer research, DYHA encourages its players to be more than just hockey players, but active members of their community.  Players are also able, as they get older, to contribute to the association as qualified, paid house referees.

6)      DYHA Sponsorship and Fundraising

i)        The association continues to value and appreciate the 30 house team and 8 travel team sponsors.  In many cases these are local businesses who are loyal and long term supporters of the association, and help reduce the cost of participation for all players.  Sponsors have access to the DYHA Facebook page and Twitter feed and teams are encouraged to increase sponsor exposure by submitting weekly write-ups to the local papers.  Families are encouraged to get to know and support our sponsors via the Sponsors tab on the association website.

ii)       Friends of DYHA is an independent entity administered by a board sub-committee.  With the expenses of hockey significant (including registration, equipment , gas and tires) Friends works with need-qualifies families to provide financial assistance.  Friends of DYHA remains grateful to all donors and in particular recognizes the memorial contributions given in memory of Henry Frazer Herbert this season.  Mr. Herbert was a Darien High School Hockey player and DYHA House and Travel Coach for 10 seasons.

7)      The Strategic Initiatives for the future are:

i)        Maintaining a strong house program to support continued growth from within.

ii)       Improve player skills development on and off ice

iii)     Continued improvement of quality of coaching from all coaches – both paid and volunteer

iv)     Growth of the game

v)      Communication – encouraging a 2-way flow of information, both positive and otherwise.  Participation in the anonymous season-end surveys critical.

8)      Challenges and concerns faced by the organization include

i)        Costs – Coaching and Ice biggest drivers in this area

ii)       Independent programs

iii)     Increasing USA Hockey and Connecticut Hockey Conference requirements on volunteers

iv)     Goalies and American Development Model for younger players – the association will need to rise to this challenge independently

v)      Other sports becoming full year eg. Lacrosse, Baseball, Soccer

9)      Reasons for Optimism

i)        Strong Mini- and Mighty-Mite numbers

ii)       Strong Junior and Senior House participation numbers

iii)     Continued growth in Girls Hockey


At the conclusion of the presentation, the meeting was opened to questions and comments from the floor.


Question and Answer Session

The following questions, concerns and comments were raised by Voting Members:

1)      Concern was expressed about the availability of ice, particularly at STR with the expansion of other local hockey offerings.  The board responded that ice negotiations are ongoing and high priority with local area rinks.

2)      Comment was made from the floor in connection with Off-ice training that teams can negotiate advantageous group rates with local off-ice facilities.

3)      Question was raised girls supplemental teams and whether a U14 Supplemental team might be added in the future.  Girls Hockey Director Jeff Eccleston responded that the number of teams offered is a direct function of the number of girls enrolled.  The association aims to accommodate as many as possible, and if the numbers justify the addition of a U14 Supplemental team it would be considered.

4)      A Girls Team Voting member commended the association on the work done to administer the program, and raised a 3-part question: 1) Does the association envisage the partnership with the New Canaan Winter Club continuing at the U12 and U14 levels?  2) How many full travel teams does the association anticipate offering at these levels next season? And 3) Does the association anticipate changes in coaching staff?  Jeff Eccleston led the response in saying that yes, it is expected the partnership with NCWC would continue.  The partnership enables both programs to field teams of a high caliber, and furthermore prevents players from being cut due to insufficient numbers.  The number of full teams offered will be evaluated each season based on numbers.  All coaches are evaluated by means of the confidential parent surveys and observation.  The structure of a female coach on each team is expected to continue.

5)      The board was asked whether Mite C would ever be re-categorized as a B1 team.  The Travel and House Directors responded that Mite C remains supplementary to the House program and as such is unlikely to be re-categorized.

6)      Question was raised about whether tryouts may be moved to Spring for more age groups (currently Bantams, Midgets and the Girls program tries out in Spring).  The board responded that this continues to be a topic for discussion.  Weighing heavily in favor of keeping fall tryouts for the younger age groups is that it allows 5 months of development physically, mentally and in terms of skills for players, which can be material in those under 10.  Fall tryouts also improve the chances of House players to break in to the Travel program.  The association remains mindful, however, that almost all competition has Spring tryouts.   For girls in the U12 and above age groups, the more finite pool of players necessitates that in order to remain successful, Spring tryouts are obligatory.

7)      The board was asked about the anonymity of the Travel Team Surveys, and how and by whom any trends or concerns arising from those were reviewed.  The board affirmed that there was no way to identify respondents other than via unsolicited parental input. Using the service provider Survey Monkey, the administrator of the survey can drill down to age group and/or team to identify trends. Comments can also be summarized by coach.  An overview is presented to the board and all board members also have the opportunity review individual feedback.

8)      A suggestion was made from the floor that more mentoring be given by experienced coaches to those who are newer, which was well received.

9)      Call out was made regarding the desirability of consistent practice days (even if times need to remain flexible).  This is being piloted in blocks at the junior house level, and the board continues to look into the viability of implementing this for more teams while working with coach and ice schedules.

10)   Conditions at the Chelsea Piers CT Cross-Ice league games raised, including lack of ice-cuts, shared (and excessively crowded) locker rooms, on-ice “officiating” by rink employees and the condition of the sponge rink dividers.  It was mentioned that since its founding in the 2012-2013 season, the dividers have degraded, becoming soft and ineffective at restraining players and plays.  It was further raised that in the absence of USA Hockey certified referees (as they had in inaugural season) the emphasis on free play is overriding concerns regarding safe play, and respecting certain rules of hockey.


With further thanks to the Voting Members for their time and attendance, the meeting adjourned at 8:53pm.


Gigi Williams