PHOENIX -- The Coyotes are in Los Angeles this weekend looking for a win. Some of their biggest fans planning to cheer them on include Valley kids. They’re not just watching hockey, they're also playing it.
“They no longer have to leave home to really play competitive hockey,” Mike DeAngelis said.
One of the hottest things happening in the desert is on the ice.
“We've seen a lot of growth not only in numbers of players playing hockey in the state, but the ability and skill level of some of the kids is getting great,” DeAngelis said.
DeAngelis should know. He heads up the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes travel hockey. Their program at the Ice Den has 16 travel teams.
“We've had NHL draft picks and there have been tons of guys who have gone to a Division 1 college,” DeAngelis said. “Our program has been fortunate enough to have three players sign that came through our program in the last few years, who signed Division 1 scholarship packages.”
One young rising star who came out of Arizona is JT Barnett. The 19-year-old plays in the Western Hockey League. Barnett spoke with 3TV at Athletes Performance in Phoenix where he trains during the offseason.
“My dad wanted me to move over because he saw the potential of Arizona hockey and as soon as I came over here, you started to see it rise,” Barnett said.
Now that the coyotes are in the running for the Stanley Cup, more and more kids are hitting the ice.
“I'm sure tons of kids who weren't into hockey before are seeing the Coyotes and how good they're doing and seeing the fans reaction when there is a white out, and that's all they want to do is be at the games or play hockey,” Barnett said.
Jon Brooks, President of the Arizona Amateur Hockey Association, said the number of kids and adults playing the sport has jumped 34 percent in the last year.
“Having a pro sports team in any sport helps expose that sport to the general media and hockey has been a tough sale in Arizona over the years,” Brooks said. “And having them win and be successful and seeing the support is really gratifying and hopefully that will be a part of the youth sports movement too.”
So keeping a team like the Coyotes around might be a good thing not only good for our state, but for the fans and upcoming hockey players as well.
“I'm sure I’m not the only one, there are probably 50 more hockey players here that are really close to making it into the pro ranks,” Barnett said.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Arizona's Youth Hockey programs, please log onto www.azamateurhockey.org