KIJHL clubs finding ways to improve and stay positive
By Emanuel Sequeira
We’re halfway through a pause in league action announced by the provincial government and Viasport, but in this third edition instalment of the Notebook we connected with teams to get an update to find out what they have been up to.
The Castlegar Rebels have been going as normal with players wanting to improve every day no matter the situation.
“That is their mindset coming to the rink,” said Rebels coach-GM Carter Duffin. “Through the first week we made a plan for a big intrasquad game, hyped it up in the room and on our social media.”
The coaches drafted teams and the match was decided in a shootout.
“From a coaching perspective, you couldn’t ask for anything better than that – unfortunately my assistant coach took the victory,” said Duffin.
The Rebels have also focused on individual skills and tactics, as well as how those aspects combine to create effective team tactics. Duffin says the biggest focus for them is fun.
“As cliche as it sounds, these guys are here because they love the game and they want to have fun,” he said. “As a coaching staff, our responsibility is to ensure they are having fun during this pause. They love to compete, they desire to improve themselves.”
Brad Fox has put the Chase Heat through high tempo, competitive practices that are enjoyable for the players. Fox says they incorporate as many game-like practices with mini games concepts as possible. They are making physical conditioning a priority on and off the ice to be prepared for the return to league action.
“Because of the uncertainty of the timeline, we have continued to address the importance of everyone’s mental make up to push through this again,” said Fox, the Heat coach. “We have a lot of team meetings right now to reiterate the challenge that comes back to each player individually and our group collectively – the resilience to the commitment level. We can use this as a test of our will to hold each other accountable to stay the course.”
Morale and humour has been positive, said Fox. Their energy has been really good while they continue to work on individual development as well as their team game.
“This is a difficult learning curve, but our message to each other has been consistent,” he says. “We have the privilege to play a game we love and continue every day and this is what we signed up for.”
“We feel the players have improved quite a bit,” he said, adding the players are motivated by a desire to move up in hockey.
They have had intra-squad games and competition days, which the players have enjoyed.
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats played an instra-squad game placing an emphasis on making it important.
“We talked about our 0-3 start and the only way we are going to get better is to take an intra squad game seriously,” said coach-GM Bill Rotheisler. “I was surprised to see the intensity the boys came to play with. It was a success for sure.”
Rotheisler tinkered with his lines, using analytics to help find the right combinations. He is working to balance the lineup rather than having the traditional top-heavy approach. He has liked the trio of newcomer Tyler Badger, recently acquired from the Summerland Steam, along with Campbell McLean and Vin Jackson.
“Vinny and Badger (who will wear 36) are similar in a lot of ways. Both have a lot of offensive skill. They can play on both sides of the puck. Badger has a nose for the net. He has some grit to him. He plays that Matthew Tkachuk style. I’m excited to see them in action.”
“We have been working on special teams – and mixing line combinations to find chemistry to provide ourselves with a balanced attack,” said coach-GM Jeff Wagner. “We have also slowed things down at times to work on individual skills and added intra-squad games to implement our teachings at game speed and keep the players hungry and competitive.”
The line juggling has given the staff some clarity on players and how to best utilize them and put them in positions to succeed. Wagner is happy with the progress made and is looking forward to seeing it in game action.
The Ghostriders got some additions from Junior A programs – Alex Frank (Notre Dame Hounds) and Scott Sinclair (Fort McMurray Oil Barons) made their first appearances in their final game with little preparation. Having time to get adjusted has been fun for Wagner to watch. The additions of Nikolas Sombrowski (Weyburn Red Wings) and Dan Lindeman (Calgary Canucks) will also boost the team.
The Golden Rockets plan to hit the ground running when they can. Coach-GM Chuck Wight has been working on improving the roster. He anticipates adding a player soon, but says it has been a very slow process.
The players have been doing an online program by Hone Athletic in which Jessica Renney, the daughter of Hockey Canada CEO (and former Rockies coach) Tom Renney, is involved. The organization is dedicated to athletes’ mental health. Players are able to provide anonymous feedback that gives important information to their team. Once a week, the athletes receive a simple, seven-question survey in which they rank how they feel in different areas that impact their mental health. The coaches can look at the information and make the proper training adjustments.
The Grand Forks Border Bruins have been focused on hashing out their systems on the ice. They have also been doing things to help the team bond. Off the ice, as a group, they are doing things within the rules. They gathered in the woods to have a bonfire and roasted hot dogs and went snowshoeing.
“We enjoyed our time together which was pretty good,” said Border Bruins coach-GM John Clewlow.
He has seen positive improvement.
Kamloops Storm coach Steve Gainey has been working to keep his players focused and energized through the pause. They are on the ice five times a week.
Three areas they have been addressing are defensive zone coverage, breakouts and offensive zone systems. He wants to “eliminate grey areas I hadn’t been clear enough” on. The hope is they are visible coming out into games. He’s happy with the progress, but adds it does take games to see it.
“How they look when the game is on the line are pretty different pictures,” said Gainey. “We are using this as an opportunity rather than a hindrance for our season.”
Coach Ken Law has his Kelowna Chiefs team working hard to improve certain areas of their game, along with keeping focus on game-like situations while still making practices fun and competitive. They have several competitions during the week to keep guys motivated.
“We’re pretty much in a training camp mode, breaking down each day to focus on certain areas of our game,” he said. “We’re trying to keep guys positive and focused on what’s to come.”
To bring more competition to practices and raise their numbers to 24, the Chiefs brought in goalie Kobe Grant and a couple of forwards. Grant has some Junior A experience, with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Vernon Vipers.
“We are having some fun, a lot of small area games and competitions, but mainly we’re focusing on practicing our systems and power play so we are ready to go once we play again,” he said. “I’m very happy with how our forward lines played in our last game and they have been practicing well together so they will be staying as is. Ryan Bennet and Blake Anderson seem to work well together, while Tyler Russell, Keegan McDowell and Carter Spring has been very good in our last few games.”
The Nelson Leafs gave their veteran group time off. Assistant coach/GM Adam DiBella says after playing pretty good then to take two weeks off, after having an extended camp, isn’t something they wanted to do again.
“We’ve got quite a good leadership group,” he said. “We knew that they would take care of themselves. Show the younger guys what the junior experience is like, with taking care of your bodies and making sure you are ready for practice and games on the weekend.”
The North Okanagan Knights used ice sessions for games to go over things.
“It’s been not bad in a sense we’ve slowed things down and tried to do a little bit more,” said Knights coach Dean McAmmond. It just gives me a bit more practice time with the guys. It hasn’t been a bad thing. We all like to be playing games of course.”
McAmmond has been focused on building the players’ situational awareness.
“They say you can’t teach hockey sense, but you can try and introduce a decision-making process where it’s not so cut and dry, follow the lines,” he said. “There is a certain amount of feel. I always say it’s a dance, you’ve got to hear the music, you just can’t be counting the steps.”
McAmmond is also working on finding line combinations that click. With new faces, he says it takes a while to see a bit of chemistry develop.
“I think the defensive side, it’s becoming a little clearer because there’s only really two variables in each pairing,” he added.
The Osoyoos Coyotes have been working on systems and special teams as well as conditioning on and off the ice. Coach Carter Rigby said the players get in the gym a bit more and can work harder without being worried about being sore for games. They are also enjoying team activities in a safe manner, such as having bowling and butter chicken nights.
“I’ve been really happy with the group that we have and the characters that we have in the room,” said Rigby. “It’s nice to see guys starting to gel and bond. I’m a strong believer of chemistry in locker rooms – being very tight to be successful on the ice. We’re trying to stay focused. It’s a little bit tough with not having games and guys maybe not feeling motivated all the time. It’s our job to make sure that they are showing up every day wanting to get better too, in case we do get to go next week.”
The Princeton Posse have used the time on team building and have seen great results. With a later start, they have pushed the tempo in practice and continue to improve their conditioning.
“We really just wanted to maintain a level of focus that will allow our group to be ready if we are able to get back to playing before Christmas,” said coach-GM Mark McNaughton. “We have spent about half our time practicing and half our time scrimmaging to keep players playing as much as possible. It was tough getting three games in and then being shut down. Guys got a taste of game action again so managing the disappointment of being told we can’t play again has been a bit of a task for our staff.”
The Revelstoke Grizzlies staff has asked players to be adaptable and to understand that everyone is in the same position.
“We have the understanding we have to put one foot in front of the other. Our guys have done a good job of that,” said coach-GM Ryan Parent. “We’re just looking to tomorrow, tomorrow and live in the moment essentially.”
They want the players to keep improving so that they’re ready when play resumes. They have taken extra measures to ensure the players stay healthy. They also have them training hard and properly.
“For the players mentally, physically, I think it’s the right thing for them to be able to do what we do. I think there is going to be a light at the other end of the horizon,” he said.
The Sicamous Eagles added ice times for practice and team building exercises. They have mixed in a good combination of skill drills and small area games to keep their compete level where it needs to be.
“I think our progress is coming along nicely. The break gave us an opportunity to get more familiar with our line combinations and it’s allowed the players to recognize trends in their linemates,” said coach Ty Gunn. “We have a great group this year and everyone has remained positive about the situation we all find ourselves in right now.”
The Summerland Steam have been focusing on areas that need work. Knowing the opposition, coach-GM Nick Deschenes is a firm believer in working on your weaknesses as a group and individual. Part of their focus has been on special teams.
“We are a younger team. We tend to draw more penalties with our speed,” he sai.
They have also kept up with their off-ice training and Deschenes has been working with the players on developing hockey sense and awareness.
“Needing to know options before getting the puck, as well for 5-on-5,” he said, as they have done small area games. “Look beyond the obvious play. Think forward a little bit.”
News released on Wednesday evening by the provincial government and the Provincial Health Office has the KIJHL returning to Viasport’s Phase 2 requirements. This requires teams to scale back their practices to physically distanced on-ice activities.
Emanuel Sequeira is Director of Communications for the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League