The key to success for Farmington's youth hockey program might not have anything to do with ice.
On Dec. 17, the Farmington Youth Hockey Association opened the doors of a new downtown dryland training facility it hopes will help local programs close the gap with teams from nearby cities that have had similar facilities for years. The new location on Third Street will offer the kind of practice opportunities they would otherwise have to leave town to find.
"Every top-notch program in the metro area has a dryland facility," said Mike Cassano, FYHA's player development director. "In the past, teams have been taking kids and going to other facilities like Lakeville. They go to Rosemount to do dryland training."
That kind of travel costs money, and it takes away from the sense of community Cassano would like to see in the local hockey program.
Discussion about the facility, called the Tiger Den, started last summer after Cassano approached the FYHA board about getting involved. Cassano played college hockey at St. Olaf and was a varsity hockey coach for seven years, so player development seemed like a good fit.
Once the board gave its approval for the project, which was paid for with money from each team's budget, the facility itself came together quickly and with a lot of help from the community. FYHA had carpet donated for the facility. The labor for the project was also donated.
The work to complete the facility took just three weeks. It was like an old-fashioned barn raising, but with more medicine balls and synthetic ice.
"When our community wants something done to benefit our kids, everyone kicks into high gear," said FYHA president Troy Grengs. "This project is a perfect example. It's been a true community effort with hockey parents, non-hockey parents, and businesses pitching in."
The Tiger Den features several rooms, each painted in black and orange. There is a room with 150 square feet of synthetic ice for shooting practice, a room with fitness equipment and a classroom with an eight-by-four screen and a high-definition projector. There is an entire room dedicated to stick handling.
The Tiger Den also has something called the ProHybrid Consistent Confidence Crease, a slippery surface that allows goalies to put on their pads and slide around.
"In the past, goaltenders would have to travel north to a different community ... to get any kind of goaltending training," Cassano said. "This will alleviate that. They can do it right here."
Bringing in that piece of equipment means goaltenders can practice with their team, which wasn't always the case.
Each team in the FYHA hockey program will have access to the Tiger Den five times per month. Cassano believes that will be a big benefit for the program. Kids will be able to practice shooting and other skills much more than they could when practice opportunities were limited by ice time and other factors. That kind of repetition will help build good form.
On Friday last week, the U-10 B girls team spent part of the night hopping over low hurdles and firing shots at tarps decorated with pictures of goalies.
"We're going to have our kids shooting pucks, stickhandling, being athletic and doing hockey-related exercise on a far more consistent basis," he said. "That really does foster that sense of community and togetherness."
Cassano and the rest of FYHA also hopes some extra opportunities off the ice brings some more success on the ice.