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Youth hockey players need to look beyond their coaches if they want to advance in the increasingly competitive sport, a local youth hockey official said.
"The sport is growing and if you want to get to the next step, you can't rely on going to your normal weekly practices and games. You have to go on your own," said Todd Naylor, president of the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League, which is for young players.
The owners of a new off-ice hockey training facility in Robinson are aiming to help youths be competitive.
Peters residents Christopher and Michelle Jones opened Overtime Hockey LLC on Dec. 14 in a 6,000-square-foot space in the Parkway View Business Park in Robinson.
The facility includes two skating treadmills; a RapidShot Hockey Training System, which shoots pucks and measures the user's accuracy, shot speed and reaction time; and a 48- by 30-foot synthetic ice rink, Christopher Jones said.
The RapidShot system and synthetic ice make the center unique in this region, he said. After seeing a similar facility in Detroit, he thought Overtime Hockey would succeed in the Pittsburgh area. Synthetic ice rinks are made of slick, plastic panels upon which players can skate.
"And also, I'm a youth hockey coach, and there is a struggle finding enough ice time for the kids to practice and get better," Christopher Jones said.
Overtime, with a base membership package that costs $45 a month, has about 30 members, he said. The center has five instructors certified by amateur ice hockey governing body USA Hockey.
Mt. Lebanon resident Joe Thuransky's son, Sam, 10, started playing on his first team in the fall, with the South Hills Amateur Hockey Association. He recently started training at Overtime Hockey.
"There's no outside interference "e;¦ there's not kids in line rushing you. You're one-on-one with the instructor and the machine, and he really enjoyed it," said Thuransky, 48.
A former youth hockey player, Thuransky said youth hockey has evolved from a sport in which it used to be easy for a child to join a team.
"Now, it is very difficult to get on a team, and it doesn't matter where you're at. It is so hard to get on a team because there are so many kids now involved in hockey," he said.
While youth players have been dropping in number in some areas, the Pittsburgh region has seen growth, Naylor said.
The Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League's membership has risen about 49 percent to 5,206 players since 2000 because of star Penguins player Sidney Crosby's influence and USA Hockey's American Development Model, designed to get younger people playing at a reduced cost, Naylor said.
Hockey instructor Robert Gergerich said he has run week-long hockey training schools through his International Hockey College at rented rinks in the United States, Canada and Austria for about 30 years.
"In my business in the early 90s, there was a big increase because of Mario Lemieux and also the Stanley Cups, and then it kind of dropped off a little bit. And now it's back up because of Sidney,"he said.
In August, Gergerich opened the IHC Hockey Training Center in St. Clair Fitness in Upper St. Clair, he said. With a skating ramp and synthetic ice, the center is the only one of its kind in the area, he said.
Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org