Those “ankle benders” have become solid skaters, won two state high school hockey championships and made the playoffs eight times.
Now Desert Vista hockey head coach Steve McGinn, assistant coach Jim Laffin and junior varsity coach Kevin Gambill are ready to step out from behind the bench and turn the team over to a new group next season.
“I’ve enjoyed it so much and that’s what makes it a difficult decision,” said McGinn, who was one of the original organizers of the team in 1999.
“But after 11 years of doing this, my job has gotten to the point where I have to spend too much time with work and travel to do it justice,” McGinn said.
His “day job” is at Honeywell Aerospace where he is the lead administrator who works closely with Honeywell and the Federal Aeronautics Association.
McGinn knew Laffin from playing on a Honeywell team and has had him behind the bench for the last 10 years.
“Jim is the brains of the outfit,” McGinn said. “He’s a great hockey strategist.”
Gambill had two of his offspring in the program and has been part of the coaching staff for the past eight years.
The season starts in August and any post-season can take it through April.
“Practice starts at 5:30 in the morning and with three teams we go three days a week,” McGinn explained. “From there, I change and go to work.”
McGinn had coached hockey in Connecticut 20 years ago and when his son’s roller hockey team in Arizona wanted to switch to ice hockey they asked him if he’d be their coach.
Desert Vista won the state championship the first year on the ice, but the league dissolved and the team entered the high school division the next season.
When his son graduated in 2001 McGinn decided to walk away and let someone else take over the team.
That lasted three months.
Then, in 2001-2002 Desert Vista decided to throw in with the most competitive teams at the time.
”Some coaches called and said we were going to get our butts kicked,” McGinn said, “and we did get beat up, but we won and it was a good education.”
Hockey is not among the sports sanctioned by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, but as a high school club team Desert Vista became the first to win back-to-back championships in 2004 and 2005.
Desert Vista also reached the championship game in 2006 and 2007 and made it to the semifinals two other seasons.
“This season we have an excellent chance to win again,” McGinn said.
While the coaches are the face of the team, it takes a strong administrative team in the background to make it work, McGinn explained.
“Without a good equipment manager you go out there looking like a pond team and if you don’t have a good finance person you can’t afford the ice,” McGinn explained. “And without good fundraisers, you have nothing.”
Desert Vista has been playing at the Polar Ice arena at West Harrison and 54th Street in Chandler since the facility opened.
Arizona has since become a hockey powerhouse, McGinn said.
“Some of that is because a lot of people move here from somewhere else,” McGinn said. “But we encourage all kids to play. We don’t cut anyone, and everyone gets a jersey. Some are ankle benders and others just take your breath away they’re so good. They’re getting good coaching at the junior varsity level.”
But coaching doesn’t pay the bills.
“It’s a passion, and I’m not leaving because I’m fed up, but because my job has expanded,” McGinn said.
McGinn, Laffin and Gambill will be on the bench until the state playoffs at Polar Ice March 27-28.
“We have every intention of being there,” McGinn said. “But then it’s time to tip my hat to them. It’s been a great run. It was a lot of fun coaching all those kids and I wish them a lot of luck in the future.”