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Adult Hockey Options Expanding with Appetite in Nashville

08/18/2014, 11:30am MDT
By USA Hockey

Q-and-A with Craig MacDonald of Ford Ice Center

Some of us are hockey lifers. We took our first strides at 3 years old and haven’t looked back. But others are a little late to the greatest game in the world. At the wise ages of 30, 40 and even 50, they are just now learning about the slot, saucer passes and what a twig is.

Ford Ice Center, the Nashville Predators’ new practice facility, is ready to welcome local amateur hockey associations, including adults who might be stepping onto the ice for the first time.

“Playing adult hockey really is unlike any other adult recreation sport available,” said Ford Ice Center Hockey Director Craig MacDonald. “We want anyone who is even remotely interested (in playing hockey) to have the opportunity to come and learn. We want to grow the game, and just like in youth hockey, you have to attract new players with no experience and work your way up.”

From A/B-league players down to novice skaters, there are plenty of league options. MacDonald, a USA Hockey-certified coach and former player at NCAA Division III Lake Forest College, discussed all that Ford Ice Center has to offer both aspiring and seasoned adult players.

USA Hockey: Why put so much focus on the beginner adult leagues?

Craig MacDonald: We want to grow the sport. If we’re going to accomplish that, we’re not going to grow it on the top end. There are only a finite number of those A-league players. I really want to focus on building from the ground up. Eliminate that barrier for people who don’t know the rules or have never skated before. For that we’re going to have Get Out And Learn! (G.O.A.L.!) programs and on-going weekly adult hockey classes. Whatever we can do to help new players. Let’s get them involved and get them on the ice.

USA Hockey: What’s going to draw beginning players to Ford Ice Center? Why pick up hockey at this stage of life?

Craig MacDonald: There are so many different reasons. Some people here (in Nashville) played hockey maybe 10 years ago and see this brand-new facility as an opportunity to get back in the game. One of the things I've seen is dads sign up and learn to play just so they can be on the ice with their kids.

But what I think should draw new players in is the adult hockey environment. The best thing about hockey, and the really important thing about these adult leagues, is the camaraderie and socializing. The hockey community is one of the closest I've come to know. The locker room experience and on-ice team and relationship building is unlike any other sport.

USA Hockey: You've had a lot of success in growing youth hockey programs, most recently in Evansville, Ind. How does coaching and growing adult hockey compare?

Craig MacDonald: It really isn't all that different from coaching kids. The biggest difference is removing the fear of failure. One thing I say is, ‘I need you to check your ego at the goal line. Once you get over that goal line, no egos.’ Another one of my sayings is ‘Falling is not failing and you have to fall to succeed.’ I remind players not to be afraid. Physically and mentally, people get nervous about falling. I always say, ‘We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.’ I try to keep it light. In the end, everyone out there, experienced or not, is there to have fun. That’s what we want to provide.

USA Hockey: Overall, what types of leagues will be offered at Ford Ice Center?

Craig MacDonald: We’re going to offer an A/B league, two C leagues, and a D league. We will also have Over-40, Over-60 and Under-30 leagues. The thought behind the Under-30 is to create a college club league with visions of producing legitimate American Collegiate Hockey Association teams like Vanderbilt. We want to keep that one separate because their goals and aspirations are much different than the normal adult league. At some point, after we have had enough G.O.A.L.! program participants in the adult leagues, we will have a Never-Ever League for those new-to-the-game types of players.

USA Hockey: But it’s not only about those newbies. For the competitive players there is always the sold-out Nashville Adult Classic, right?

Craig MacDonald: We definitely don’t want to alienate our competitive players either, and that’s why we have USA Hockey and the Adult Classic. It’s a great 30-team adult tournament at the end of September (25-28). That’s where those players can come and enjoy the amenities of our rink and compete against others from across the country.

USA Hockey: And Nashville has a lot to offer on and off the ice for that tournament…

Craig MacDonald: Let’s be honest, Nashville is a fantastic place to come and visit. We have shopping, great outdoors activities and music. There’s so much to do here, it makes for such a popular destination that it’s really an easy sell to get the hockey community to come to.

USA Hockey: “Smashville” has been growing in hockey popularity. How is the adult league demographic in the Nashville area?

Craig MacDonald: There’s so much pent-up demand for hockey here. I was told when I first came here that there were something like 75 adult teams in the Nashville area. That’s a lot of teams for a non-traditional market. There’s a big population of adults who have come here for work. I would say 50 percent of the guys playing in an adult league are not from the area. As word started getting out about the new Ford Ice Center, all of a sudden you start hearing about people who, before, weren't being served geographically and they want to get back into hockey. I think there are a lot of people excited about it and excited to be a part of hockey again now that they have more options.

USA Hockey: How has being associated with USA Hockey helped bring numbers and teams in?

Craig MacDonald: The most important value of being sanctioned with USA Hockey is just being part of the USA Hockey family. We’re helping to continue to grow the sport in Middle Tennessee and we want to be behind an organization that is doing that across the country. USA Hockey brings a lot more legitimacy to our program. It’s good to have them on our side.

Register your adult team at Ford Ice Center today.

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