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Going Back To My Hockey Roots

There is a new team in town. The NHL Seattle Kraken selected the Coachella Valley to be the home for their AHL affiliate and named them the Firebirds. They officially started playing this season and are playing their first 22 games on the road while the brand new Acrisure Arena is completed. Their home opener will be December 18th. So far off to a great start at 6-3-1.

They really put together a great marketing plan with sweet home and away uniforms, a TV deal with local broadcasters, a radio package too, and of course multiple level ticket purchase options. The Arena will also be host to many concerts and other activities as it is now going to be the showpiece here in the desert.

The team will be coached by 2009 Stanly Cup winning head coach Dan Bylsma, which is quite a get for a new franchise and should help get the team up to speed much quicker than usual for an expansion team. He is assisted by the first ever female assistant coach in the AHL, Jessica Campbell who has a stellar record and background in hockey including being head coach for Germany in the Men's World Championships along with a great career as a player for Canada on various teams, and Stu Bickel another rising star, young coach, who played in 76 NHL games and spent over ten years total in the AHL.

So who cares Dan, I hear you screaming.

Well, the Firebirds had their first ever community street hockey tournament in Palm Springs on Saturday, and because a friend of mine couldn't make it, I was asked to fill in as a volunteer and ended up being one of the referee/scorekeepers for the tournament.

What a fun time. There were two sets of tournaments. In the morning they had the under 10 year old teams playing a round robin and then a championship game between the top two point getters. And in the afternoon it was time for the under 13 year old's to play in the same format. Prizes were given out to the winners, they held a raffle for cool stuff, and they had a DJ playing music at Jimmy Hendricks volume so all of us old people could hear it too.

Also making appearances was the famous John Day and some guy named Grant Fuhr, and for the kids, the real star was the Firebirds newly named mascot, Fuego making one of his first appearances for the team. There were additional games to be played for those not interested in hockey, or for the little ones that wanted something to do while the games were on.

The whole thing was organized and run by two terrific ladies. Shannon Miller, VP of Branding and Community relations for the Firebirds, and Director of Hockey for the Berger Foundation Iceplex, home to the Firebirds. The lead person for the event was Zoe Hickel, Manager of Hockey Programming & Community Relations for the Firebirds, and Associate Director of Hockey for the Berger Foundation Iceplex.

I have been involved with many charity/community events in my time and this was one of the best run events I can remember. Plenty of things to do, plenty of food and drinks, tons of community support including the park and recreation department, the police and fire department, and of course the sponsors of the team and arena. Just a top shelf event.

My favorite part of the games was during the under 10 group play when the two teams of four players, not including the goalies, would be around the ball in a rugby scrum all game. They are still learning that you can actually pass the ball and that not everyone has to be hacking and whacking at it at the same time. Amazingly nobody got hurt.

You could see clearly the improvement in the under 13 group play as the players have a little better understanding of the mechanics of the game and played a little more like what you expect to see in a hockey game. They still have some room for growth, but a noticeable improvement.

Grant Fuhr was gracious enough to handle duties as a ref and was happy to oblige anyone who asked for a picture with him. Local TV was there to do a story and interviewed him and Zoe plus filming some of the games and prizes awarded to the winners. Many of the kids got TV time Saturday night for their efforts.

There will be additional community functions by the team and hopefully I didn't embarrass myself too much and will be asked back to help. Now that I am retired I actually look forward to doing more things like this down here as it gives me a chance to get out, and in this case, connect with a new sports team in town that I definitely have interest in watching and following.

Thanks to the Coachella Valley Firebirds for letting me be a part of this and to Shannon and Zoe for being so welcoming.

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