By @MichaelCaples –
The Kalamazoo Optimist Hockey Association has announced a unique new program that will see two of the leading hockey countries in the world working together to develop better players and coaches.
KOHA is partnering with the Sport Insitute of Finland – Vierumaki, the country’s leading sports training center, to provide an internship opportunity for the 2019-2020 season.
Vierumaki serves as the home to the International Ice Hockey Centre of Excellence, which puts on educational events and training camps, produces educational material and conducts research on the sport (visit their official website here).
Kalle Virtanen, a coach for the Lahti Pelicans 16U team, will spend the season in Kalamazoo, working with KOHA’s players and teams while learning about hockey both in Michigan and the United States. Internships between the two countries first began in 2016-17, when Aspen Junior Hockey welcomed Kalle Valiaho, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association’s youth hockey manager, to join their program for the year.
“The Bachelor Degree of Sport and Leisure Management started 2002 in Vierumäki, the Sport Institute of Finland, and now for the first time a student has the chance to do his internship in Michigan in the US.,” Valiaho said. “Students have been to several places all over the world (North America, Europe and Asia so far). Learning new cultures is vital for young coaches, because it helps you to understand how and why things are done differently in life and in coaching. On behalf of Finnish Ice Hockey Association we are pleased that KOHA is offering this chance to Kalle Virtanen.”
KOHA, a USA Hockey ADM Model Association, will also help Virtanen learn from KOHA partners like Western Michigan University and the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings.
“Finland is a relatively small country that has seen has seen tremendous success on hockey’s international stage, which is a testament to their development philosophies and culture,” said Matt Kakabeeke, KOHA’s Hockey Director. “Aspen Junior Hockey created a similar partnership a couple of seasons ago, and when I heard about it, I thought, why can’t we do that here in Kalamazoo? We have the resources, vision and board support to be a national leader for youth hockey.”
Jack Witt, USA Hockey’s coach-in-chief for Michigan, said he’s looking forward to hosting the Great Lakes State’s new guest coach.
“I’ve followed KOHA’s journey as a USA Hockey Model Club for many years, and I have always been impressed by the organization’s willingness to adapt and to innovate, to offer the best possible youth sports environment for its participants. Elements like dedicated skills instructors, the Coaches College, the use of USA Hockey resources, have all contributed to outstanding membership services and player development. I’m particularly excited that in the coming season, KOHA is again innovating by partnering with the Vierumaki Sports Institute of Finland to bring one of their coaching interns to Kalamazoo for the season. For those who may not know, Finland is one of the smallest countries in the top-tier of International Hockey, and one of the most successful. Bringing their sports culture to Kalamazoo with a full-time Intern Coach should benefit all the members of the KOHA community, and will hopefully be a great cultural and developmental experience for everyone involved.”