Kootenay International Junior Hockey League players are back on the ice following their Christmas break.
Among the players are the 19- and 20-year-olds, who were given the green light by Viasport on Dec. 28 to join their teammates. Currently teams are practicing under Viasports’ Phase 2 Return to Play guidelines, which they are well familiar with. This edition of the KIJHL Notebook has coaches, one from each division, talk about what they are working on to best develop their players’ skills for whenever league play resumes.
Briar McNaney, coach of the Columbia Valley Rockies, says the biggest thing is to get the players back to their conditioning levels and feel for the game prior to being shut down. Restrictions have limited what they can do.
“Home exercises only go so far as there is no substitute for on-ice conditioning,” says McNaney, who played 197 career regular season and playoff games in the KIJHL. “As far as the feel goes, it will just be a matter of time before the kids feel comfortable doing everything at a high speed again. They’ve shown the work ethic needed to continue our previous success.”
Passing and speed were the early strengths of the Rockies. The positive for the players is that those are skills that can be worked on during any phase and time.
“As challenging as this whole COVID situation has been, I feel that this pandemic has been a great learning opportunity for these young men to build the character they need to make it through life,” he says. “Every single one of them has shown up everyday with a great work ethic and positive attitude, which are extremely useful traits for any adult to have, let alone 16-20 year olds. This has and will continue to help them become stronger people, and our organization is proud of the progress made.”
Castlegar Rebels coach-GM Carter Duffin says they are looking forward to taking advantage of this time to focus on each player’s individual skills and tactics to further develop them.
“The KIJHL is a fantastic developmental league with players that have a desire to improve and advance (whether it be to Junior A or to college/university),” says Duffin. “This is a great opportunity to help fine tune some of those skills that players will need and help be advantageous to their advancement.”
Duffin views the return to Phase 2 as a big benefit for their program by having the players understand and buy into the situation.
“All the players want to get better and improve, so the guys see this as continued opportunities to develop and spend time at the rink with their teammates,” says Duffin, who prior to coming to the KIJHL, was an assistant coach with the Estevan Bruins in the SJHL and Virden Oil Capitals in the MJHL.
Duffins says the phase structure may be much more different than normal, but the opportunity is there. As a staff, they are prepared to help their players grow.
Team functions resumed on Monday for the Kamloops Storm. Steve Gainey and the coaching staff have placed an emphasis on skill development and fitness.
“This is actually an appropriate way to restart our program after the time off,” says Storm general manager Matt Kolle. “Players need to get their endurance and skills back to the level they were before. Our hope is that as we move forward, the restrictions will loosen and we can progress into compete drills and eventually game play.”
The positive from this situation is the player development the Storm are providing.
Mark McNaughton, coach-GM of the Princeton Posse, sees this as a unique opportunity for his players.
“Being able to focus solely on their individual skill sets, we are helping our guys stay disciplined in their approach,” he says. “We are trying to push them to meet any individual goals they have set. The players who recognize this opportunity will come out better for it.”
Giving the players a chance to be on the ice and have fun is something they did before that helped build the Posse.
“It is tough to maintain a team atmosphere when they can’t socialize like normal and can’t use games to come together,” adds McNaughton. “We are trying to provide our guys with any opportunity to grow together. If cheering on a quality rep in practice and getting to know each other in the short time we have at the rink is the only opportunity, so be it.
“We have a group of young athletes working hard, smiling, sweating, pushing themselves and each other, gaining friends and a year of life they won’t soon forget,” he continued.