Arizona Rubber
Arizona Rubber

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Behind the Mask



June 17, 2009

Player development a priority for Redhawks

Greg Schursky and Rob Powell took a quick glance at Arizona's hockey talent scattered around junior leagues in North America.

A state with a growing reputation for producing talent (see: Beattie, Kyle; Samuelsson, Phil; Langlois, Jeremy; et. al) still had only one junior team locally.

"How come 17 kids that are playing juniors aren't in this town?" Schursky asked.

In reality, that number is even higher – with 17 playing in the Northern Pacific Hockey League alone. That doesn't count those in the USHL, EJHL or NAHL.

The Phoenix Polar Bears have provided an excellent opportunity for local talent to play junior hockey in state, winning the 2009 Thorne Cup, given to the victors of the Western States Hockey League. They also made their eighth-consecutive appearance at the national tournament.

Since that program joined the WSHL in 1999-2000, the Polar Bears have won the league six times, including a Junior B National Championship in 2002-03

Eighteen of the 24 players on its roster during the 2008-09 were homegrown.

Still, even if the Polar Bears were to have a roster full of Arizona natives, that'd mean that only 24 slots each year would be open.

Enter the Arizona Redhawks, the state's newest junior hockey team based out of Polar Ice in Peoria.

"Hopefully there will be more Arizona boys that don't have to travel," said Powell, the Redhawks' coach.

It will be a program dedicated to getting their players to the next level.

"The ideal hockey player for us is the kid that wants to go as far as he can," said Schursky, the Redhawks' GM. "If you don't want to go somewhere after this, you're not going to have your heart in it. You're not going to have the determination. You're not going to have the pride."

Powell was approached by a group of interested parties who asked him if a second junior team in the state was feasible.

"My first reaction was, 'Yeah, there's a whole opportunity that's available in town for a group of owners and a lot of kids,'" said Powell, who also serves as the Arizona High School Hockey Association's director of coaching and player development.

Powell has a history of starting programs. He helped get the San Diego Jr. Gulls off the ground in California; the Gulls also compete in the WSHL.

But there was one major obstacle in making the Redhawks a reality: Harry Mahood and the Polar Bears owned the territorial rights to Maricopa County.

Mahood, the team's president of hockey operations, as well as GM and coach, was instrumental in the Redhawks' inclusion into the WSHL.

"I've got to be honest with you, if it wasn't for Harry Mahood, we wouldn't be a program right now," Powell said. "Without his support and encouragement and enthusiasm, there would be no Arizona Redhawks.

"On paper, we're not part of each other, but I'm telling you, without Harry Mahood, we would not exist. We are partners in junior hockey together."

The Redhawks were officially announced as a WSHL expansion franchise in late May. If they get their way, it will be the start of a healthy rivalry with the Polar Bears.

"There will be big rivalries between us, because a lot of these kids know each other, they came out of the high school groups," said Schursky, who has 11 years of experience as a hockey administrator, including three as the GM of ASU's Division I team, and four as an AHSHA board member.

The addition of a second team locally should help the WSHL's scheduling. Often times, by the time the third game of a weekend series rolls around, both teams are testy.

Now, two WSHL teams will be able to travel to Arizona, play the Redhawks twice, then flip-flop and play the Polar Bears once – and vice versa.

"Now suddenly, we have two teams in town and we can swap out a game," Schursky said. "It breaks it up a little."

Powell envisions Arizona's high school ranks providing talent for the Redhawks.

"One of the caveats that I added was that I would be allowed to stay with the high school program, because that's so near and dear to me," Powell said. "We can utilize the high school program as a recruiting tool."

In-state players won't be the sole focus.

The Redhawks hope to create a circle, one that begins with sending alumni to higher levels of hockey, then returns around with a boost in reputation, and thus, attracts better talent.

"When you sit down at the end of the day," Schursky said, "and you're hearing, 'Hey, we've got this junior team out in Arizona, and … these guys are putting out good players and getting into good schools.' The kids will be exposed to that, and maybe they'll consider playing for us."

Player development will be at the forefront for the Redhawks.

"Even though you're playing at this level, you're building up, getting better," Schursky said. "We're going to get you, if not to college, we're going to get you to somebody who can look at you some more.

"We have the avenues to move kids into college," he added. "We have the avenues to move the kids other, higher, junior teams that also have the avenues to get them to D-I."

The Arizona Redhawks will hold tryouts in July. For a complete schedule, click here.

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