Edina senior forward Kevin Delaney had one goal and one assist in the Hornets’ 3-2 overtime win over Eden Prairie in the 2019 Class AA state championship game. Photo: Nick Wosika
By now most everyone in the hockey world has heard of Kevin Delaney’s story. In the Edina youth hockey system, he never once made an A or AA team. In his second year of PeeWee hockey, Kevin played on the B2 team. What do we take from his path to varsity hockey on the best team in the state? What conclusion do we come to after seeing this former second-year PeeWee B2 player score a goal and get an assist in the most important game played all year?
For many, including myself, the story inspires and provides hope. Never give up. Always keep working hard because you never know where the journey will take you. Simply do your best and focus on your effort rather than the results.
What Delaney’s story also illustrates is the non-linear development path of youth athletes. Reactions to his story do at times seem to demonstrate how our perceptions of youth development are a bit off. While as a percentage there are not many Bantam B1 second-year players that ultimately play varsity hockey, there are a lot of varsity hockey players that never played on the top Squirt, Peewee or Bantam team growing up.
We have to look at the numbers from both sides as they tell different stories. If we just look at the number of Bantam B1 players that make varsity, it seems like a long-shot that rarely happens.
Making varsity is hard. There is only one team with limited spots that three and sometimes four grade levels are competing for. Not even close to all of the A or AA Bantam players will get a chance to play. If we look at the varsity team roster and trace their youth careers back to Squirts, we see that many of them were second-year players playing on their association’s second, third or fourth team.
Wayzata’s 2015-16 state championship team is a great example of how non-linear youth athlete growth rates and development can be. Eight of the players on this state title team played Squirt B1 hockey their second year! Nine players played PeeWee B or on PeeWee A (the No. 2 PeeWee team) in their second year of PeeWees. How crazy is that? And six of the players played on Bantam B1 or Bantam A (the No. 2 Bantam team) in their second year of Bantams.
We should consider these playing histories and trajectories to be normal. Delaney’s story of rising up the ranks, surpassing his peers and ultimately making the varsity team shouldn’t be considered a rare occurrence (scoring a goal in the state championship game and winning the whole thing is what makes his story so particularly special). But moving up from the B squad or even a PeeWee C team to varsity happens more than we realize!
Associations should track their membership’s team placement histories. If development and coaching resources are equitably distributed, we should see movement up and down each year. We should see Squirt C players that ultimately play varsity hockey and do so at a high level. We should see PeeWee B2s that are just late bloomers and a couple years behind physiologically catch up and surpass their peers in Bantams and high school. And we should see AA players that don’t remain at the top every year.
Let’s keep the focus on our student-athletes’ efforts and spend less time focusing on who is “elite” or a “top prospect.” If we do, we’ll have the joy of watching more players like Kevin Delaney compete at the highest level of high school hockey!
Josh Levine is the Assistant Coach of the Bloomington Jefferson Girls Varsity Hockey team and owner of The Fortis Academy. Fortis works with youth associations to implement skill development programs with all teams, from Mites to Bantams. The program includes parent education seminars, coaching clinics and Fortis skill-based practices. If you’re interested in learning more, shoot Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Fortis on Facebook and Instagram.