Spotlight on . . . North Central Mass Youth Hockey Association
President: Richard Hylan
Vice President: Jason Pelavin
Player Count: 250+
Travel about 60 miles along Route 2 out of Boston and you’ll find Gardner, Mass., which is only about another 80 or so to Williamstown and home to the aptly named North Central Mass Youth Hockey Association. The Sting program prides itself on providing a community-based hockey program whose calling card is value.
Gardner is also not far from the headquarters of Mylec, based in Winchendon, Mass., and that fact plays a direct role in getting the Pelavins involved, thanks to their local connection to the street hockey company's owners.
“They're friends of ours and we know them really well, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we get them out there?,’” Pelavin says. “At the time [my son and daughter] both got out there and were playing dek hockey for Mylec for a while. My son said he wanted to play ice hockey, and we got him into a Learn to Skate and he has loved it since.”
While Pelavin’s daughter wound up a figure skater, his son is still all about hockey.
“Oh, he loves it,” says Pelavin. “He’s totally into it. It’s really great. I’m enjoying watching him play and have fun. It’s a good program here so I’m excited about it.”
Pelavin, on the Board for two years now, also runs the website and social media. Oh, and he’s the Registrar, too.
“What we’ve done right as an organization is that we are community-based,” Pelavin says. “We have a good, good knowledge of who our community is, of who are skaters are, of who are parents are, and we gear the program to their needs – as opposed to forcing them to be in an organization that is too expensive or has too many expectations. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are a community-based town league that is succeeding amidst other programs. We offer an excellent value for our price and the kids are responding.”
One of Pelavin’s key metrics includes players who might have left the program for greener pastures, only to return to the Sting.
“We have already seen a wave of kids leave and come back, which is always satisfying,” he says.
And if a player does seek those greener pastures, they won’t find any hard feelings.
“We have parents who say, ‘We understand you’re a town league, but my son needs to be in an elite league,’” says Pelavin. “And I say, ‘Well, your son performed very well in our evaluations, and we wish you luck. He’s a good kid and we hope to see you again.’ Those players and their commitment to the sport, and their parents’ commitment, are on a different level than the kids we’re trying to reach.”
Pelavin credits a robust house hockey program for their success.
“Price point is important for us,” he says. “It’s excellent for parents who want to have a less-expensive experience but still have a nice time with some quality kids and instructors.”
This year, the program expended from six teams to nine teams.
Underway for this season, but with more plans for next season, is the Girls Grow Hockey program. This year, they’ve partnered with such local schools as The Winchendon School, Cushing Academy, Gardner High School and Oakmont Regional High School.
“We applied for and received a Cheever Grant,” says Pelavin. “We got a bunch of jerseys together and we got a bunch of ice time and we put this girls’ team together. We weren’t really sure what kind of reception we would get, but we had 30 girls show up for the first session. And the first tournament they, entered they won.”
Pelavin’s research suggested having mentors might curb attrition among girls at the youth hockey level as they reached pee wee age.
“If they have a mentor, they are more apt to stay,” he says. “We’re trying to find as many girls to give back as possible. They can set the example that, yes, you can continue to play hockey into high school.”
Next year, the program aims to expand to include Boston University.
“Maybe we’ll have some road trips or into Boston to skate on the ice,” says Pelavin.
Also on the horizon are home games in the Valley Hockey League and a cross-over experience, of sorts. Pelavin is interested in teaming travel players with house players and house players with travel players: “We want to give the house kids an experience of playing with a kid who plays a lot more hockey. It’s not to say they’re more skilled, but they have more ice time. There’s no judgment there.”
“Stay true to who you are,” says Pelavin, who credits Hylan for guiding the Sting. “And do the best you can with what you have. The kids will be loyal to you. That’s a big part of it. We are a good, solid hockey team and a hockey club that focuses on the kids’ development. And it’s showing. We are having success and we are winning state championships and winning at tournaments. Those types of things are good indicators that what we are doing is working, and we are sticking to that model. And thanks to all of our Girls Grow Hockey committee, and to all of our volunteers, coaches and kids.”