While the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League season came to a disappointing end, some organizations have decided to keep operating, holding practises for its players. We connected with a few coaches to find out how they are pushing the players.
In Castlegar, the focus with the Rebels remains on individual skills and tactics. Coach-GM Carter Duffin says during the week they have days that are broken down to forwards/defencemen, or specific focus skills or tactics.
“We have also spent a lot of time even breaking down some basic skills, such as skating, and time focused on a specific skills aspect for all players or position specific,” says Duffin.
The biggest reason the Rebels are continuing is two-fold: “Our organization prides itself on providing players with as many opportunities to help develop these young men, and these ‘COVID-19 days’ are no exception,” says Duffin. “We will continue to make the best of every opportunity we have to be on the ice. The second reason is the culture we have built in our room. These guys want to be at the rink together, pushing each other and developing their craft every chance they get.”
Even before the cancelation, the Rebels’ daily focus was about trying to get better, spending time on individual skills and tactics to help their team tactics and execution. The Rebels coaching staff will keep players engaged and they have increased player input to build and plan practises.
“We have a number of players in our room that spend a lot of the time studying the game, and will send us clips of a highlight or a skill they see in a game and ask us to build a drill to work on that,” says Duffin. “This is a real encouragement to us coaching staff, having this type of desire from our players helps increase their engagement on-ice and then continues to get more guys providing insight to what they would like to work on.”
The Creston Valley Thunder Cats have taken a different approach with how they are operating – continuing until the end of February.
“One of the things we take pride of in our organization is appreciating the individuality of our players and unique circumstances,” says Thunder Cats coach-GM Bill Rotheisler.
Some players took the opportunity to go home early and continue training, while others were encouraged to stay and continue to develop and prepare for restrictions loosening, or next season. The Thunder Cats are taking things week by week and adjusting their schedule to accommodate the players who wish to continue to work on and off the ice and study in Creston.
The Thunder Cats have left the ball in the players’ court keeping an open mind approach. The organization is using this as an opportunity to empower the players to work on what is important to them and incorporating coaching guidance. At the same time, Thunder Cats staff are working on their own promotion and assembling game and practice footage as well as analytics to compile the best player profile. They are maximizing footage and data from the brief season.
“Our guys are prepared for the next level, so our job is to properly relay what we see to the higher calibre programs, especially ones that have had limited capacities to scout this season,” says Rotheisler. “We also want the players to take on a role in this as well as you cannot properly give a picture of the players on and off ice identity, without their input.”
There will be work on skills that translate into system play that can be inserted into most structures at the next level.
“Skating, getting off plays quick, quick shots in soft spot areas, traffic plays and cross platform plays among others,” says Rotheisler. “Skating is always No.1, but a polished stride is not enough by itself anymore and players still have to establish uniqueness in their game.”
The players’ input guides their training direction. There is a push to get stronger and more explosive in the gym.
The Kelowna Chiefs coaching staff will be working on individual skill development and power skating along with using sessions from Power Edge Pro to improve players’ puck skills.
“We work hard on making each practice as challenging as possible to keep players engaged and energized,” says Chiefs coach Ken Law.
The coaching staff is emphasizing to the players to possess an awareness for strong play in all zones, not just the offensive. They want the players to think more about what needs to happen when they lose puck possession and how to regain focus on puck retrieval. They are also working on off-ice conditioning and how to maintain their mental health, especially with the current pandemic. They are trying to give them coping skills to control what they can and accept problems that they can’t control.
The Chiefs are always communicating with the players on what they are looking to improve. The coaches ask the players to develop drills or get a feeling for what games they like to play or competitions are their favourite.
“We have plans for a captain’s practice where each team leader will be asked to bring in two drills that they will have to explain and run,” says Law. “I’m sure this will be very interesting.”
Law says the players desire to keep working shows the character they have and their commitment to improve not only their skills, but to also develop a good team-first mentality.
“Our team leaders have done a fantastic job in making sure guys are staying the course and coming to each session with focus and a fantastic compete level,” says Law.