If You Can’t Skate, You Can’t Play
AHU helping grow the game one skater at a time, thanks to skating coach Holly Harrington
By Sean Phillips
There is an ice rink in the desert that is building hockey players.
Nestled off the Santan Village Parkway in Gilbert, tucked away in a sleepy, manicured neighborhood between baseball fields and a dog park, you’ll find a fairly unassuming ice skating rink simply named AZ Ice.
Inside this rink, they are quite literally building hockey players from the ground up with one of Arizona hockey’s best-kept “not-so-secret” secrets – Scottsdale’s very own Holly Harrington.
If you play, or better yet, if you have a child that is involved in Arizona hockey or figure skating, you know her – or you have at least heard of her. Get close enough to the rink and you should be able to actually hear her. Go to one of her lessons (especially the ever-growing power skating class) and you will really hear her and her message.
Her message is simple: “IF YOU CAN’T SKATE, YOU CAN’T PLAY.”
You don’t have to be a hockey expert to understand this message is right on the money.
Don’t let her blonde locks and pink helmet trick you into thinking she is just there for the girls. Holly is there for all ages, sizes and skill levels. Her oldest player was 78 and she is currently coaching three 16-month-old children. Her youngest student ever was 14 months old. She is now 15 years old and plays AAA for the St. Louis Blues girls hockey program.
If you are willing to try, she will, too. Coach Holly is not your average figure skater-turned skating coach. Her 23 years of skating experience (10 competitive, 13 professional) combined with her 20-plus years of coaching has made her a master of harnessing the science of skating and has also aided her to effectively download that information to players, especially the younger ones.
Thursday nights at AZ Ice Gilbert hosts her power skating class. This is where the assortment of these differences are plentiful – from beer leaguers to juniors to Mites all the way down to the little, little ones – the cubs! Holly’s mastery in motivation shines on these nights.
AHU Squirt Silver assistant coach Randy Butler has seen Harrington in action leading the power skating class.
“She can single handedly get 50 kids under the age of eight to stop and pay attention to her instruction,” said Butler.
Harrington also holds the distinction of being Arizona Hockey Union’s head power skating instructor and AZ Ice’s on-ice director of program development.
“We are extremely lucky to have Holly Harrington in our program,” said AHU president Stacy Shupe. “Her passion for the sport, coupled with her proven success of teaching kids, is truly her winning combination. She also understands the business end of things and her vision and goals are always with long-term growth and program sustainability in mind.”
Harrington, along with her husband, Kurt Goar, have been at AZ Ice since before the doors opened. They were hired to create and build the program that remains today. Her endurance is justification about her passion for the long-term growth of hockey and skating. Her passion for the sport comes through in her booming words and enthusiasm to not only the players but to the players’ families as well. She continually educates on and off the ice to give truthful expectations as to what to anticipate now and in the future.
The great coach Tom Landry was once quoted as saying, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has to see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you always known you could be.”
Coach Holly embodies this in every word she roars along with every hug she gives.
Is she tough? “Tough” might be the wrong word. “Fanatical” might be a better one.
She is 100 percent dedicated to see her kids (hockey or figure skating) succeed and that is outwardly obvious when she is around them or speaking of them. Her tough-love expertise and attention to detail stem from her rigorous requirements of her years traveling with Disney.
“I have four boys that have all been coached by Holly and all are where they are because of her teachings, patience, passion and love for helping kids learn to skate,” said AHU Pee Wee Black head coach Scott Gusso. “While they all skate very differently, she has greatly impacted all of them. Best of all, she has been in my family life as a friend for over 20 years. Skating is just the icing on the cake.”
James Gusso is 21 and has played two years of ACHA hockey at Arizona State University, Justin Gusso is 18 and in his first year playing in the EHL for the Philadelphia Revolution, Jarred Gusso is also 18, was an AHU goalie from 12U through 18U and is now the AHU Pee Wee Black goalie coach, and Ryan Kim is 11 and plays 12U White for the Knights.
No coach can take credit for just one player but if you do a quick search or ask around about Harrington, you’ll find players at all levels that will credit her for not only teaching them how to skate but also for being there throughout their whole “building” process.
Coach Holly is truly an oasis in the Arizona desert hockey scene.