Not every youth hockey player is headed for the NHL, but North Texas is getting players who love the game out on the ice.

The greater D-FW area now has eight Dallas Stars Metro Hockey League Centers that offer everything from a hockey academy; winter, spring, and summer leagues; camps; clinics; and enhancement lessons. This has opened up the opportunity for all genders and ages to experience hockey.

I recently spoke with Coach Ryan McLean about how youth hockey in North Texas was progressing. He knows a little something about it after spending the last twelve plus years working on the development of our young players. Currently, the head coach of the Frisco Varsity Gold hockey team, Coach McLean has worked closely with the Dallas Stars youth programs and heads up the off-campus hockey program in McKinney. He also offers camps and training through his own program, McLean Hockey Training.

McLean played in the ECHL with the Wichita Thunder for seven seasons and rather than hang up his skates when he retired, he headed to Dallas to pursue full-time coaching in 2007.

Over the last decade, he has seen and been a part of changes in youth hockey that has taken Texas from a market that wasn’t viewed seriously to one that is earning respect across the nation.

McLean attributes the progress to several things.

  • The American Development Model was adopted by the Dallas Stars youth programs. This model allows players to focus on developing skills through repetition rather than traditional full ice practices. All levels of players, from the metro league to the Dallas Stars Elite teams, use this model.
  • The Dallas Stars’ newest endeavor, the Off-Camus Hockey Development Program, replaces the traditional PE class at school. Players in grades 6th -12th are provided training four days a week at one of several off-campus locations where experienced coaches work with players in groups based on skill level. McLean was quick to point out that the off-campus program was for all skill levels and not just advanced players.
  • Until five or six years ago the D-FW area had eleven different travel/club programs with only a couple doing well at the national level. This number was reduced to five in order to focus on players that would benefit the most from the expectations placed on elite teams. The Dallas Stars Elite teams often rank in the top 10 in the nation.

When I asked Coach McLean what else needed to happen to take the youth leagues to the next level, he said we are already doing it. That’s good news for Texas as it is still considered a smaller hockey market.

With the recent shutdown due to COVID-19, progress for youth players is at a halt the same way it is across the professional leagues. It’s hard not to think about how much work the players have put in already this year without wondering how the shutdown might affect their development. Players who are working out and practicing their skills off the ice will have an easier time getting back in game shape when hockey resumes.

McLean recommends staying positive, exercising, and that parents who are worried about their hockey players not keeping their skills up, contact the coaches, who should be more than willing to help. To help prepare his students for upcoming tryouts, Coach McLean has set up virtual lessons in a group setting format, offering off-ice instruction and the opportunity to interact with fellow hockey players.

Not every hockey player is headed for the NHL, but North Texas is providing ways to get the ones who love the game out on the ice, whether it’s on an elite team, high school team, or in a house league.

Not only that, but McLean says Texas is “on par with any state in the country right now” when it comes to youth hockey.
That’s good news for everyone, those with kids who are interested in hockey and for those who want to see Texas viewed as a legitimate hockey market.

Featured Image: @ShatteredLensTX
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