Mike Cavanaugh returns to MV Arena to lead clinic

Former BC and Bruins player Bobby Allen warms up with Mites and Squirts players during a session on August 15. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Mikey likes it.

Mike Cavanaugh, men’s hockey coach at the University of Connecticut (UConn), sang the praises of Island hockey players and their youth hockey program at the conclusion of an annual four-day hockey clinic that was attended by a record number of Island pucksters aged 8 to 14.

Mr. Cavanaugh, former assistant coach for the high-powered Boston College (B.C.) men’s hockey team, said this week the clinic has special meaning for him and his coaching colleagues, including Greg Brown, B.C. assistant hockey coach. Both men were college stars and played professionally before their coaching careers began.

“This (clinic) is something that Peter Gillis put together and it is fantastic,” Mr. Cavanaugh said. “I think what he does for Martha’s Vineyard youth hockey is exceptional. We all did it last summer and it was a big hit. The kids are excited to see us and we know each other a little bit now.”

Despite being recently hired by UConn, Mr. Cavanaugh honored his commitment to Mr. Gillis and the players. “I had made plans to come and then got the job at UConn, but I had a commitment and a relationship with Peter so I wanted to honor the time and effort he puts into the youth program and the clinic,” he said.

“You know, this is a special youth hockey program you’ve got on the Vineyard,” Mr. Cavanaugh said. “I went to the Island youth hockey fundraiser at Farm Neck and it surprised me. It’s interesting to see how passionate the Island kids are about hockey. How much fun they have playing, and importantly, they are coachable kids. They listen. Hockey is a good winter outlet for kids, particularly on the Island, when not much is going on in winter.”

Mr. Cavanaugh noticed the dramatic increase in clinic participants in 2013. “We were maxed out at every session with about 30 kids in each of the three sessions a day,” he said. “I’m hoping we’ll be invited back next year and if the growth continues, we’ll have four sessions a day in 2014.”

The youth hockey clinics began modestly four years ago when Mr. Gillis invited college coaches to the Island to share their experience with Island youth hockey coaches. The scope of the program has grown to include the summer clinic, now in its second year.

Youth hockey divides players in four age category divisions: — Mites, Squirts, Peewee,s and Bantams.

“We had about 85 kids at this clinic, a dramatic increase over last year,” Mr. Gillis said this week. “I think that’s where we can see the impact of the clinic and youth hockey generally on the Island. Another example: this winter, we will field two teams each in Mites, Squirts and Peewees compared with a single team in each category in past seasons.

I think where we’re seeing success is that kids are more excited about hockey. They learn a lot and that makes a youth hockey coach’s job easier. The numbers are up for younger kids. This year we have barely enough Bantams [oldest division] but enough for two teams among the younger age groups.

“These clinics really help. I can’t say enough about these guys [Mr. Cavanaugh and Mr. Brown]. Mike is named head coach of a Division 1 program and Greg was coaching the U.S. Junior National Team in Lake Placid and came directly to the Island to coach a youth clinic. That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. When they are talking, the kids are rapt. It’s a lot different from my practices.”

The sessions include a package of skill drills. “The drills are age-appropriate,” Mr. Cavanaugh said. “Obviously, younger kids need to work on skating and balance primarily rather than advanced skills for the older kids.”

The coaches are not doing the clinic for the money. “We pay a nominal fee to the coaches, nothing like what they could get at a hockey camp,” Mr. Gillis said.

And that’s fine with the coaches. “I see this as an opportunity for the clinic to be a fundraiser for the youth program and that’s what I want to see,” Mr. Cavanaugh said. Coaches and college and pro players who teach at the clinic bunk for the week with Mr. Gillis and at houses provided by youth hockey Island volunteers. Clinic tuition is $150 for the Island’s youth hockey players and raises a few thousand dollars for Island youth hockey expenses.

“I hope the Island community continues to rally around youth hockey,” Mr. Cavanaugh said.

“You have excellent leadership and just need to keep repairing and upgrading your facility.”