The vision started when Lamar Hunt Jr. attended his first Missouri Mavericks hockey game this season. The team’s brand impressed him almost immediately, and within a few months, he purchased the ECHL franchise.
In the week after that move was made official last month, Hunt expressed his intentions to land the Mavericks an NHL affiliation — “sooner rather than later,” he said — as part of a project designed to grow interest in the team.
But for all the large-scale, build-quickly ideas Hunt has conveyed with his new professional hockey team, much of his focus recently has turned toward another objective.
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Hunt has overseen this month’s development of the Kansas City Youth Hockey Association, an umbrella organization for kids hockey in the metropolitan area. It has absorbed five local programs in Kansas City, along with one from Topeka and another from St. Joseph. The Mavericks will have no ownership in the nonprofit group.
“It’s a shared vision,” Hunt said. “There’s a uniformity of expectation. Everybody can participate at a different level, but instead of trying to figure out where you fit, you register and we’ll fit you win. We’ll find a place for you, and we’ll bring you up.”
The Kansas City Stars, Junior Mavs, Storm, Fighting Saints, Carriage Club, Topeka RoadRunners and St. Joseph Griffons are the seven members of the organization.
The backing association has established two initial objectives — it seeks to unify the coaching and development philosophies among all programs, and it will work toward adding more sheets of ice in the Kansas City metro area. For the latter, Hunt has pegged Wyandotte County, northern Kansas City and Johnson County as potential destinations for new hockey rinks.
“We’ve very close,” he said. “Not there yet, but that’s the goal here.”
The process of marrying coaching philosophies over the organizations should begin almost immediately, Hunt said.
Tom Tilley, a member of the five-person executive board for the youth hockey association, said USA Hockey has expressed interest in holding coaching clinics in Kansas City.
“They’re really excited about the consolidation and want to come help us grow. It’s a powerful opportunity (that) we haven’t had access to in the past,” Tilley said. “There are things that have evolved in the last five years that have really advanced youth hockey. We have to make sure that even the old-school coaches are engaged and willing to try it. It’s a good time to bring those guys back in, refresh everyone’s memory and explain what we’re trying to accomplish.”
While the existing organizations will become more like-minded in their development of players and coaching ideals, they will each maintain their team names and identities, Hunt said, adding, “We just want to offer support from the top.”
New players will be routed into the teams using school district lines, and the elite players will combine to form one travel team, which will be branded as the KC Mavs, modeled after the Missouri Mavericks, of course, who are in the midst of their first year in the ECHL.
Parents have voiced concerns about the districting of players.
“If I’m paying nearly $900 for my son to play hockey, I should get to choose where he plays and who he plays for,” said Mike Coppoc, whose 13-year-old son plays for the Saints.
In an effort to alleviate those concerns, the youth hockey association has made districting a suggestion rather than a mandate, Hunt said.
In addition to its five-member executive board, the association will also include an advisory board with each organization represented.
The association plans to operate a website with online registration, team pages, rosters, standings and league statistics. It also hopes the consolidation process will allow it to host more local tournaments in Kansas City.
“Through listening to people and sitting through meetings, this unification process became a top priority,” Hunt said. “You start to build those youth programs, from the participation level to the elite. There’s a thirst for growth here. We’re providing the outlet.”