Minnesota Hockey honored Wadena Hockey Club with its annual DICK'S Sporting Goods Grow the Game Award on May 20. The award is presented to two youth hockey associations each season in recognition of outstanding dedication to introducing youth in their community to the game of hockey.
WHC has shown consistent growth at the eight-and-under level, with increasing numbers in six of the past seven seasons. Over the past three years, the association's numbers have surged from 45 players at the 8U level in 2014-15 to nearly 100 8U players this season, setting a new record for the third consecutive season.
When recruiting new players into the game of hockey, an emphasis is placed on attracting boys and girls younger than eight-years old, when the large majority of players try the sport. By increasing the number of players at the 8U age level, Minnesota Hockey associations are also positively impacting the older age groups, thus supplementing long-term growth and success.
"We have been able to offer a program that impacts many communities, and because of this we are bolstering the love of hockey throughout the area. Our focus has been creating a fun and safe learning environment for the children, while striving to keep affordability a priority," WHC Association President BJ Meyer said.
The Wadena Hockey Club includes the communities of Wadena, Deer Creek, Verndale, Staples, Motley, Sebeka, Parkers Prairie, New York Mills, Bertha, Hewitt and Henning.
Many of the programs which have played key roles have been focused on engaging the communities the association touches, such as participating in community parades, school open houses, offering orientation night and family fun nights, personal phone calls to members and interaction with local high school programs.
"For an association to double the number of 8U players in three years is an outstanding accomplishment," Minnesota Hockey President Dave Margenau said. "It really is a testament to the amazing efforts and passion of youth hockey volunteers in Wadena to provide the opportunity for kids to experience the joy of playing hockey and continue playing the game."
Past recipients of the DICK'S Sporting Goods Grow the Game Award include: Mounds View-Irondale and Hallock (2017), Bemidji and Mahtomedi (2016), Osseo-Maple Grove and Willmar (2015), Elk River and Ely (2014).