Firebirds benefitting from presence in the NAPHL
December 16, 2013
By Matt Mackinder, Arizona Rubber Magazine
As part of the Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA), the Phoenix Firebirds have created a tradition of excellence over the years.
The recent presence of their 18U AAA and 16U AAA teams in the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) is only bringing more valued recognition to the storied program.
Now in their third year competing the NAPHL, the Firebirds have witnessed plenty of developmental success stories and, according to 16U and 18U head coach Todd Collins, it all starts behind the scenes.
“From (DYHA hockey director) Sean Whyte on down to all of our coaches, everyone really, really cares about these kids and developing them and getting them to the next level,” Collins said. “To be in the NAPHL is a privilege and an honor and the competition we see is second to none.
“There are so many talented players in the NAPHL and you’ve even got kids who’ve verbally committed to top (NCAA) Division I schools. It’s just incredible exposure for these kids.”
Earlier this month, the Firebirds took part in a NAPHL showcase in Blaine, Minn., where Collins said the exposure was “tremendous.”
“For the 16U All-Star Game, the place was packed,” said Collins. “There were scouts from (North American Hockey League and United States Hockey League teams) and D-I schools there. It was just phenomenal.”
NAPHL commissioner Denny Scanlon says having the Firebirds in the league is a win-win for both organizations.
“The biggest thing that appealed to me when the Firebirds applied to join was the quality of the people operating the organization, like Todd Collins, and their obvious passion and dedication to the game of hockey, as well as their commitment to providing the best exposure opportunities for their players,” Scanlon said.
“One thing the NAPHL prides itself on is providing opportunities for players from non-traditional hockey areas, and Phoenix certainly fits that bill; it’s an important part of our western footprint.
“You can definitely see the momentum building each year with their program. As they continue to establish themselves in the league and continue advancing players on to the junior level, I think you’re going to see more and more high-quality players wanting to be a part of the Firebirds organization and the NAPHL.”
Firebirds assistant hockey director Alex Hicks couldn’t be happier with the partnership and the benefits it's providing players from the Valley.
“Since we’ve been a part of the NAPHL, we’ve seen numerous players advance to junior hockey and some even have college offers and opportunities,” said Hicks. “I think all of that is due to the hard work of everyone in our organization, as well as the NAPHL for going above and beyond to promote these kids.”
Collins also notes that every NAPHL event is run first-class, and gives scouts every chance to see the players they want to evaluate.
“I’ve been coaching 26 years, and the NAPHL is as well-run an organization I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s our jobs as coaches to get these kids the opportunities they deserve, and they're getting them playing against some of the best players in their age group in the country.
“With the showcases in places like Detroit and Minneapolis, it’s such easy access for scouts to fly in and see these games. The league is just unbelievable and we’re very fortunate to be a part of it.”
Scanlon says that while western expansion isn’t on the horizon, if the talent pool keeps progressing, it’s a definite possibility.
“I think, right now, we’re pretty satisfied with our western footprint,” said Scanlon. “We have three very strong organizations in California, in addition to Phoenix. That said, if another quality organization from the western U.S. was interested in joining, we’d certainly consider it.”