Changes are happening with the Sicamous Eagles.
As new general manager Ron Sleeman and head coach Gerald Bouchard take the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League organization in a new direction, they do it while building on the legacy that Wayne March created over 26 years.
“He did a great job,” says Sleeman.
Sleeman will be leaning on what he learned during his decade of part ownership of the Williams Lake Timberwolves in the B.C. Hockey League.
“I got to see some pretty intelligent people with a hockey sense about how to treat the kids with respect,” says Sleeman, who was named the Eagles new general manager prior to Christmas. “We had a really good coach (in Williams Lake), who was a good mentor for the boys. I’m going to use that for these kids here and it’s how we handle the boys. I have seen the education parts, which is really important for us to have here too.”
The experience Sleeman gained with the Timberwolves is so valuable he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“The whole organization was dealt with class,” he says. “That’s what we’re hoping to do with the Eagles.”
Sleeman is closer to being settled into his position and he’s very thankful to have Rob Sutherland, the assistant general manager, who he calls his “life line” as a resource. Sutherland has helped Sleeman with many tasks and currently Sleeman has been focused on finding players and connecting with BCHL clubs as they want to work with organizations in that league. He’s also been working the phone connecting with Junior A organizations from B.C. to Manitoba to move players on.
“We’re not here to keep the kids, we’re here to move them on,” Sleeman says. “That’s the biggest thing.”
He has a passion to see players grow and wants to do that in Sicamous. Sleeman’s other task, which Bouchard assists with, is staying in regular contact with parents, keeping them informed on their kids’ progress.
“A lot of the kids are living away from home. Parents sometimes don’t hear about their kids as much as they should,” he says, adding that their dorm setup – The Nest, has worked well.
Sleeman brought Bouchard on with him because of his long-time familiarity, but more importantly, the experience mentoring and coaching young men he possesses.
Bouchard, a native of Ste. Rose du Lac, Man., has coached the University of Manitoba Bisons women’s team and has worked with Hockey Alberta. A former police officer with Calgary Police Service, Bouchard was a southern Alberta scout for the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Bouchard has also worked with players on and off the ice developing their skills and fundamentals as a coach mentor and instructor with P3 Sports. He owns and operates 212 Sports Den in Vernon, where he resides, working with players on and off the ice.
Bouchard, who played in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with the Notre Dame Hounds and overseas in Slovenia, says he’s confident his background and experience, along with owning/operating a hockey development company, will keep the Eagles at a competitive level. With the support from the District of Sicamous and the Eagles board, he feels the Eagles will be ready to compete in the upcoming season. The District of Sicamous made it possible for the Eagles to use The Nest as a dorm for the players. The team never had any positive COVID-19 test results.
“Being able to have that Nest made our season possible,” says president Sheila Devost. “I don’t know how it would have happened otherwise, it would have been a challenge to get billet homes during a pandemic.”
Over the last six weeks, Bouchard says the players have been great.
“They handled the coaching/management changes like professionals, which speaks highly of this group,” he says. “The board, volunteers, players, and parents have all made it an easy transition for me coming in for the second half of the season. The team has worked hard both on and off the ice right from day one which has made it successful.”
On the ice, Bouchard plans to implement a creative 200-foot game and he’s looking forward to the 2021/22 season.