Sports

Guest coach Jason Garrison inspires young Seafair hockey players

 Vancouver Canuck Jason Garrison (left) and Seafair director of player development Derek Popke share high fives with BC Kodiaks players during a recent game in the spring team’s schedule. - Glenn Jope photo
Vancouver Canuck Jason Garrison (left) and Seafair director of player development Derek Popke share high fives with BC Kodiaks players during a recent game in the spring team’s schedule.
— image credit: Glenn Jope photo

Jason Garrison and Kevin Bieksa exchanged some friendly Twitter banter recently after finding themselves behind the benches of a pair of spring hockey teams.

Defence partners on the Vancouver Canucks, and for the next couple weeks teammates on Canada’s entry at the World Hockey Championships, the NHLers happened to be coaching on adjacent rinks: Garrison the BC Kodiaks and Bieksa his son’s team.

A Richmond Sockeye during their Keystone Cup run in 2002-03, Garrison was encouraged to be a guest coach by his friend and skating instructor Derek Popke who is director of the BC Kodiaks, an all-Seafair Minor Hockey program established two years ago.

“Jason has worked with me privately on his skating for the past five years,” said Popke, who in addition to being director of player development for Seafair operates the Vancouver Hockey School and is a renowned hockey skating consultant who has also worked on-ice with the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and with Stanley Cup winners Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Willie Mitchell and Milan Lucic.

“We were talking about his training schedule for this summer and basically just catching up on the phone after the Canucks season ended. I mentioned the Kodiaks program to him and that they were in a tournament this weekend.  Half jokingly I said we should go surprise one of the teams by guest-coaching one of their games. Jason said that sounded like fun.”

Having an NHL player as their coach may have given the 2007 Kodiaks a little extra spring in their steps, but Garrison was equally amazed by the youngsters’ talent. After the game, Garrison took photos with each of the Kodiaks and gave them all a signed hockey card.

Many associations are now starting to follow the Kodiaks-Seafair partnership as a way to increase their player development.

“The goal is not to prevent players from playing with outside programs, but simply to provide an option that is affordable, competitive and local. Seafair has a great development model in place and the Kodiaks provides an avenue for this development to continue,” said Popke. “And being able to secure ice at their home arena is unparalleled and extremely convenient for parents, coaches and players. “

The Kodiaks has teams, both at the AA and AAA levels, for players ranging in age from six to 13 years old. Each participant is schooled in individual skills, team tactics, game play and sportsmanship.

“The players are very excited to be able to continue playing hockey for another 10 weeks with their close friends,” said Seafair vice-president and community relations director Cody Kusch.

“What normally happens in the spring is that players join all different teams and not all the interested players are at the same ability. As well, many of the true AAA or elite teams focus too much on winning and not enough on the enjoyment of the game.  Over the last five years I have really seen a shift in the number of AA teams being formed versus the number of AAA programs that have either folded or changed their name to begin recruiting again. The attraction to the AA association teams is that the cost is usually quite a bit cheaper, the players are able to play with more of their close friends, the travel is far less, the commitment is not as intense, and the players are able to continue playing other sports in the spring because their weekly schedules have room for other activities.”

Kusch said when his daughter (2004 age group) was enrolled in the Hockey 2 program four years ago, there was no other association-based spring teams entered in any local tournaments. When his son (2006 age group) was in the program last year there were over 20.

The success to date, both on the ice and off the ice, has been “very positive,” said Kusch, who stressed hockey should be more than just about winning and losing.

“It should be about utilizing the learned skills to create a better all-around person,” he said.

“We teach the players about respect and they learn at a very young age how to dress themselves, fill up their own water bottles, clean up their own dressing rooms and engage in various team building exercises. They are being taught, through various off-ice activities, how to build self confidence and self esteem,” continued Kusch. “This program fosters this learning throughout the spring.”

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