Opportunities enjoyed: High school-aged hockey players have fun on summer ice
HOUGHTON — The typical sounds of hockey reverberated from the MacInnes Student Ice Arena at ice level Monday evening. Several players of high school age were on the ice, shouting for passes, firing pucks at goaltenders, and cheering on goals.
All this was happening while the man who set up the annual summer skates, Ed Kattelus, watched closely from the bench, interacting with various players as they hopped over the boards and onto the bench for a breather between shifts.
The skate, which served as a playoff game for two teams in the high school-level league, was another in a long-running series of skates that Kattelus has been running for years in the Copper Country.
The skate featured upcoming seniors like Connor Raffaelli of Houghton and Dan Wroblewski of Hancock, juniors like Brendan Boberg of Calumet and Max Heinonen of Hancock, sophomores like Jack Sayen of Houghton, and relative newcomers like 15 year olds Nick Aho of Chassell and Jack Valentine of Hurontown.
Kattelus cannot help but smile on the bench as he discussed what he heard about how the players, both older and younger, revel in the chance to skate with different teammates, and also work on improving their skills, because the other players on the ice drive them to want to improve.
“Well then, we’re hitting it on the mark,” he said. “Those are pretty much our goals. They get to play with some of these other kids, and develop a respect for them. So, when they compete with them, they can do it respectfully.”
For Aho, getting a chance to play some hockey in a rather unorganized fashion was a big selling point in why he decided to join the Kattelus-led summer skates.
“It’s fun to skate with people and not have it be organized,” he said. “(They are) sort of more relaxed games.”
Valentine, who is in his second year on the skate, likes the challenge of playing with new people.
“Overall, (this is) a really good group of kids,” he said. “You’re playing with all different types of skill levels here. Some might make it to the NHL some day. It’s just really fun, and it helps you progress your way through and ease yourself into next year’s level of hockey.”
For Aho, skating with players he does not know as well as he might his teammates during the season has helped him work on improving his own skill set, if for no other reason than to keep up with a player like Gunner Gullstrand, who skated last season with a Little Caesars 14U AAA team in Detroit last year.
“It’s really fun to play out there with them,” said Aho. “(It’s) pretty fun, because you have kids who play AAA, so you get to see how talented they are, and you try to keep up with them.”
Valentine is trying to soak up as much experience as he can as he learns about how talented the players older than him are.
“It’s just really fun to play with them,” he said. “Once you get to know them, you kind of know what their tactics are, and how they work together as a team. You kind of piece together who does what and how good they are.”
Both Aho and Valentine have enjoyed getting a chance to improve their hockey skills by skating with players who are older and more experienced than they are.
“For us, (the focus is) just working on skills,” Aho said.
“It gives me the chance for the improvement of what I need to work,” he said.
Kattelus likes giving his skaters an opportunity to try things in summer hockey that perhaps players might be afraid to try in a game, because that play does not fit within the high school coach’s game plan.
“(They don’t have to) fit a system or have someone criticizing every time,” he said. “They don’t have to listen to the criticism. They learn something, and it becomes something that will never leave them.”