CLIFTON PARK — For the past 25 years, Ron Kuhl’s name has been synonymous with youth hockey in the Capital Region.
The founder of Excel Hockey and the owner of The Hockey Hut Training Center — at its location on Crescent Road in Clifton Park since 2008 with its 40-foot by 70-foot ice surface — has been a part of thousands of skaters’ lives.
Kuhl won a National Junior College Athletic Association national title in 2000 as a coach at Hudson Valley Community College, earned several state titles at various youth hockey levels while advancing to the national rounds, and along the way always helped teach toddlers and older, how to become better skaters.
He celebrated his 25th year of involvement in the sport last month with an announcement on his Facebook page.
“I love coaching, but you have to make the decision of what’s best for your family,” Kuhl, 51, said in his office at The Hockey Hut. “Coaching and chasing after that coaching dream was something that I thought I wanted to do until we had Cam.
“Then it’s like, do I want to put my family in a suitcase, in an apartment in Corpus Christi, Texas or some small town to try to pump my ego?”
His son, Cameron, is now 23 years old and a rising junior at Plattsburgh State after spending four years on the junior hockey circuit. His daughter, Anna, also a rising junior, plays soccer at Grace College in Indiana.
“That was a big turning point me for me where I started to focus more on the instruction versus the coaching,” Ron Kuhl said. “I still got my fix here locally coaching and I loved every minute of it.”
He was given the opportunity to teach, then become a part owner of the original Hockey Hut location on Route 9 in 1997.
When Kuhl walked into the small, undistinguished storefront with its odd 38-feet-by-48-feet ice sheet by then-owners Rick and Claudia Caruso, it was a match made in heaven.
“When I first walked in, I was like ‘Oh, my god!’” he said. “This was an unbelievable concept; I could see it all over.
“This could be a franchise kind of thing. I loved the idea.”
The idea of small ice surface training was interesting and duplicated by others across the country, but not with the success that The Hockey Hut has achieved.
“Most of these smaller sheets is they build it with the idea that it’s going to be this great thing, there are other parts to it that really need to happen and that is No. 1 you need to have great instruction and you need to have consistent instruction,” Kuhl said. “With all due humility, I’ve been the stabilizing factor.
“Most of the facilities are built by someone who wants to build this cool thing and then the instruction, the instructors, are not rooted in the ownership group.”
His passion is in hockey and the teaching of it.
“There are days when we’re on the ice with 2- and 3-year-olds that are in sneakers and later that day been on the ice with [former NHLers] Brian or Matt Lashoff or Pierre LeBlond.”
USA Hockey introduced its Advanced Development program in 2009, breaking down the basics for youth hockey’s mite level skaters from the large rink to playing sideboard to sideboard, called cross ice.
The smaller surface area allowed for more contact with the puck, something Kuhl and the Hockey Hut began offering in 1997.
“I think the uniqueness of the Hockey Hut and what we’ve been able to do is create a system of programming that is exciting, it’s fun,” Kuhl said. “When we started to do it that way, we really created a niche for ourselves and we’ve been at it ever since.
The fire has not burned out of the national championship coach and instructor.
“I’ve been on the ice doing this for 25 years, most people are thinking about retiring at 25,” he said. “The thing I’m most proud of even in that, those kids today still call me ‘coach.’
“They still come back in, every time I see them at weddings, and I get wedding invitations, so I must have done something right.”