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Youth hockey coaches awarded

Much of the success that comes at the high school level in sports stems from how well the players are taught the game at the youth level.

Fans of Alexandria hockey should be happy to know that they have two of the best in the state teaching future Cardinal hockey players.

Alexandria Area Hockey Association (AAHA) mite coaches Todd Westlund and Jeff Beck have been recognized with the 3M/Minnesota Wild Coaches Recognition Award for their dedication toward the kids. More than 7,000 youth hockey coaches across Minnesota were eligible for the honor. Only 19 were selected.

The award was based on a coach's ability to excel at teaching hockey skills in a fun and positive environment, model and teach respect for opponents, officials and the rules and use positive reinforcement for effort and good play.

They must use mistakes as an opportunity to teach, and stress that developing skills and having fun is the most important thing. The coaches awarded must also be able to communicate effectively with players, officials, parents and administrators, as well as share a passion for the game.

Beck and Westlund met all those requirements as they devote hours of their time to making a positive influence on the kids.

"[Todd and Jeff's] focus on making the best program possible for the young players in Alexandria makes them well deserved recipients of this honor," AAHA Mite Coordinator Andrew Shriver said. "Along with approximately 50 other coaches in Alexandria, the number of hours that these men offer to the kids playing hockey runs well into the hundreds without monetary compensation."

Westlund coaches two groups and a total of almost 75 kids. His Wild Mites team features 45-50 kids ages 7-8. The Gopher Mites feature 25 kids ages 6-7. Beck is an instrumental leader in getting kids involved at the earliest stage. He coaches almost 50 players, ranging from 3-7 in age.

"Both guys are great coaches because they start out as great dads, who have the experience of kids as their focus," Shriver said. "Their ability to teach the game they love at a high level just makes them that much better."

Both coaches were honored with the award during a surprise presentation at the Runestone Community Center Ice Arena on April 9. Beck and Westlund, along with the 17 other recipients from around the state, will get to spend a day with the Minnesota Wild next season. The award winners will take in a practice and be guests in a suite at the Excel Energy Center with former Wild players and staff during a game.

All of the coaches in the AAHA volunteer their time. A lot goes into coaching besides practice and game time. Every coach in Minnesota is required to maintain certification by attending frequent clinics that prepare them for almost anything that could happen, from safety procedures to teaching the game, as a youth coach.

"Many of [the AAHA coaches] would be deserving recipients of the award," Shriver said. "I truly believe that while Todd and Jeff's recognition highlights their exemplary work, it really represents what many of our coaches are also doing every day, and today, we hold up two of our own as ambassadors of that great work."