KALAMAZOO, MI - The Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association (KOHA) has made another exciting addition to its Skills Team for the 2017/18 season by tapping K-Wings veteran center, Justin Taylor.
Taylor was a sixth-round draft pick by the Washington Capitals in the 2007 draft, and has played primarily in Kalamazoo since the 2010 season amassing an impressive offensive career that has landed him at the top of the team's scoring list as the K-Wings All-time ECHL points and goal leader.
"I am excited to work with KOHA's players this coming season; I look forward to a new challenge. I have experienced a lot in my hockey career, learning lessons from playing at the highest levels in hockey, that I think have value for the next generation of players," said Taylor. "I was never the best player, but I was always the hardest working. My message for the young player: every decision you make gets you closer or further away from your dream. Every step includes a ton of smaller battles to overcome and bumps along the road; the key is to continue to work hard, invest in yourself and MAKE your dream come true."
KOHA's Interim Hockey Director, Matt Kakabeeke, has been busy making additions to KOHA's Skills Team for the 2017/18 season, "Skill development will continue to be our focus, and Justin brings some terrific experience that will benefit our players' growth and coaches effectiveness on the ice. It's a win-win for us for sure because Justin is not only a great player, but his passion for the game is infectious."
Taylor - a new dad - agrees that it's important to get some time away from the rink, even at his level. The down time allows for new hobbies (his current favorite summer activity is Petosky stone hunting on Lake Michigan) and a chance to reignite the passion for the game. Taylor credits his wife, Kelsey, for her continued support and keeping him level-headed thus far in his career "never getting too high or too low. It's important to have a strong support cast around you."
Taylor, his wife, their son and two dogs currently reside in Kalamazoo, which Taylor finds "neat, because I was born on Manitoulin Island, in Canada. It's a fun fact the kids can look up since it's not far from Michigan (only a lake divides us!)."
When asked what he'd be doing if he wasn't playing hockey, Taylor said, "I am asked that often, and I think I change my answer every time. I swear I'm a little kid when it comes to what I want to be when I grow up. I've always done things with my hands, I'd love to pick up a trade. Although, I am enjoying being a dad, so maybe stay-at-home dad will be just fine and I can 'Tim the Tool Man' my house and make it a home. This - of course - pending my wife's approval to let me use power tools unsupervised!"

Previous Skills Team updates:
ECHL Defenseman Added to 17/18 Skills Team
WMU Hockey Alum to Join 17/18 Skills Team



Greetings KOHA families and friends!

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Hockey Director Certification Program at the North American Rink Conference & Expo (NARCE) in Columbus, Ohio.  The Hockey Director Certification Program is offered by USA Hockey and is instructed by ADM Regional Managers and other USA Hockey staff over 3 ½ days involving classroom, off-ice and on-ice training and education.  

The Certification Program had over 70 hockey directors or administrators from across the USA and included international participants from several European countries.  In 2016, the United States had 309,748 youth players, second in the world behind Canada (455,000).  For perspective, the 70 plus participants impacted approximately 30,000 youth players in the USA, with KOHA representing about 700 of those players.  With that said, our class would impact m
ore youth hockey players than the coaches of the Czech Republic (26,551) and slightly less than the coaches in Finland (36,607).  

As you can understand, the significance of the course offers a direct correlation to growing the game, developing players, helping youngsters become leaders
– even Olympians, and connecting the game at every level while promoting a lifelong love of the sport.

I have attended countless hockey and coaching education clinics, seminars, symposiums, and summits.  The Hockey Director Certification Program ranks as one of my all-time favorites!

I would like to share a few of the takeaways and how that will drive what our association will focus on this upcoming season:

  • KOHA will continue be a development partner with USA Hockey for the American Development Model.
    • Prioritizing Long term Athletic Development Principles and Age Appropriate Activities.
  • KOHA will focus on player and coaching development ensuring an athlete centered approach.
  • KOHA will concentrate on creating a great club culture.
    • The KOHA skills instructors will be at the heart of this idea.
As the KOHA Hockey Director my initiatives for the 2017/18 season will be:
  • Skill Development!  Skill Development!  Skill Development!
  • Developing hockey sense utilizing Small Area Games.
  • Introducing/educating players and coaches on body contact/checking.
  • Goaltending recruitment, development and training.
  • Off-ice training in conjunction with Athletic Mentors.
I am excited about the prospects of the 2017/18 season and have been energized by my experience.  I have included a few hand-outs from last week for both parents and coaches.  

Finally, I trust you have been excited about the evolution of the KOHA skills instructor team.  The addition of Ben and Kyle will bring a new dynamic to our focus on player and coach development.  Continue to monitor you email inbox for more exciting announcements!

See you around the rink!

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KALAMAZOO, MI: The Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association (KOHA) has added Kyle Bushee of the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL) to the new Skills Team lineup. For Bushee, an Otsego native, this is a true homecoming - he began his hockey career with KOHA's Learn To Play program and progressed to travel (he played for the KOHA Stars which is now the K-Wings) before moving on to play AAA hockey.
Bushee - in the ECHL's Top 30 for all-time games played - signed on with the Kalamazoo Wings in August 2016, and spent the 16-17 ECHL season playing in front of his hometown fans for the first time since the 2004 and 2005 seasons as a member of the Western Michigan University Bronco Hockey team.
Having helped at KOHA's recent travel team tryouts as an evaluator from the stands (injury prevented him from going on the ice), Bushee was asked about differences now versus his KOHA days, "I honestly don't remember my own tryouts, but I LOVE the emphasis put on small area competitions. Seeing who can make plays in tight areas gets increasingly important as the players get bigger, stronger and faster." When asked what he's most looking forward to on the ice with KOHA for the 17/18 season, "I am so excited to be working the kids and seeing them improve. I have been fortunate to play for a lot of good coaches and hopefully, I can pass some of what I learned on to these kids," said Bushee.
"To have a hometown guy and former KOHA youth hockey player on the ice with our kids will be terrific. Kyle is living the dream that so many of these young players have, and the example he sets on and off the ice is a welcomed addition to our team," said KOHA's Interim Hockey Director, Matt Kakabeeke.
Bushee grew up playing baseball, soccer, cross-country and track and didn't specialize in hockey until he was fourteen years old. Summers were filled with "riding my bike, playing with my buddies and just being a kid. It's tremendously important to put the gear away, play other sports and have fun outside. Kids can find ways to improve hockey skills without going to the rink."
When asked if he had any advice for young players in today's game, Bushee said, "just enjoy it and don't get caught up in the things that don't matter because it all goes by really quick."


KALAMAZOO, MI - The Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association (KOHA) has been busy this offseason, and newly named Interim Hockey Director, Matt Kakabeeke, has wasted no time in working on ways to improve the association for the 2017/18 season.
"I grew up playing in KOHA, and coached my first KOHA team twenty-five years ago. I am passionate about moving this program forward on and off the ice, and am committed to providing the best landscape for player development in our region," said Kakabeeke.
Since becoming a USA Hockey Model Association (2013/14 season), KOHA has committed to putting a talented Skills Team on the ice with its players. KOHA is excited to announce its first addition to the 17/18 Skills staff - former Bronco Hockey player, Ben Miller ('13).
Miller has been on the ice helping with travel tryouts this spring and is impressed with what he is seeing. "Being able to see the different age groups, and the progression of improvement through the birth years is proof that this model works. We did not have a model like the ADM; we had dads who sometimes didn't know much about hockey development. I like that coaches are trained in a different way now, and I think the players benefit greatly down the road," said Miller.
"Ben brings hockey knowledge and youthful energy to the ice that will benefit our players and coaches. He knows what it takes to play at a high level, and appreciates the changing landscape in player development. We are excited to have him joining us this season," said Kakabeeke.
The Rochester Hills, MI native who grew up playing baseball and lacrosse too, loves that KOHA emphasizes the importance of kids playing multiple sports and getting away from the rink during the offseason. "Whether I was playing baseball, lacrosse or golf, getting away from the rink was important. It got me excited for the next season. I still worked on skills - like shooting and stick handling in my driveway - but in an unstructured environment," he said.
Miller and his wife, Brittney (WMU Women's Soccer), decided to stay in Kalamazoo after graduation "because of the great people and the way of life" on this side of the state; also, said Miller, "less traffic!"


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