Yesterday’s post was about the reason why I decided to self-brand, create a website, write e-books, etc. Today I want to focus on giving a special shout out to some people that really helped me grow in hockey and in life.
First off, growing up I had a great number of coaches who were special in regards to the fact that for every lesson learned on the ice, there was a life lesson you could learn from them.
My Peewee A season I played for PCC. Our head coach was Darrel Sleeman and he was a tough coach to play for. He didn’t expect anything but the best from his players. He had coached multiple travel teams at many different age levels in the Marquette Association and was beginning to acquire legendary status not only inside, but also outside of Marquette. His assistant coach was a college student by the name of Brian Poshak. ‘Po’ as he is referred to, enjoyed a brief stint with the local university (NMU-D1) team until an injury ended his career. It was the perfect one-two punch for a group of 5th graders. Coach Sleeman was the hard-nosed, in your face, tell it like it is coach. As a Peewee, in my day, was when you started to learn how to hit. I remember Coach Sleeman constantly riding my ass about being afraid to go in the corners, which at the time, I was. He would have no problem calling you a ‘chicken shit’ in front of your teammates and you had to have thick skin to play with him. On the opposite side Coach Poshak was the happy go lucky coach with a phrase that I will remember forever, ‘knock ‘em into the penny seats.’ Coach Poshak was from Calumet, MI which is a rival town to Marquette and he would get especially jacked up for those games. While Coach Sleeman was screaming at you, Coach Poshak was laughing. What I took from that season is that you can’t play the game scared. You cannot go at anything in life half-assed and you have to give 110% in everything you do. It also showed me that even though you had to work hard to get somewhere or achieve the desired result, you could still have fun doing it. We had a good time laughing at jokes Coach Poshak would tell and to this day I still hang up my shirt with the hook facing the right shoulder as was required by Coach Sleeman.
The second coach that really had an impact on me was Coach Rick Cormier. Though I really don’t know his background I can tell you one thing. He had the ability to get people to come together like no one I have every encountered. Playing Bantam A hockey at the time meant that we were all first year Bantam skaters. In Michigan you were allowed to have a maximum of four second year Bantams on your team. During that year, if I remember correctly, we compiled a record close to 41 wins 7 losses and a handful of ties. We took third place in a Bantam AA tournament, beat a JV team in their own barn and won every tournament in our age division that we participated in. We considered ourselves the best team in Ontario, Canada after winning the Steel City tournament, the best team in Minnesota after winning two tournaments in Duluth and the best team in Wisconsin when you beat a bunch of kids who are 2-5 years older than you. We were favored, and rightfully so, when we entered the State tournament and I’ll be damned if that’s when the wheels fell off the wagon. We wound up winning our first game by 7 or 8 goals, but then lost the next two and didn’t even make it to the semi-final round. Though it was the most disappointing season based on the high expectations and talent level we had, it was still the most fun season I have ever had playing or coaching. If you ask the majority of the players who were on that squad they would have said the same thing. Some of the things that we did and got away with on the ice were remarkable. I still don’t know how we set up a play where our center would put the puck in the opposing centers skates, while our defenseman would come through the circle and just flatten the opposing center. The thing that Coach Cormier taught us was to be humble. He instantly knew how good of a team we had. He knew the talent was there and he knew what his job was. He let us play our game and controlled our egos and it worked out beautifully. He allowed the captains of the team to take leadership and if they couldn’t handle us, they were to report back to him. He laid into us when we needed it and he was such an easy going person that when he chewed our ass, we knew we were messing up. We quickly would right the ship and go about our winning ways. If we didn’t have a coach that understood us so well that season could have easily gone in the opposite direction. Let’s not forget about Coach St. Arnauld and the wisdom he shared; When asked by one of us why he always wears one side up on the collar of his jacket, he replied that it protected his neck from whichever way the wind was blowing. Ingenious I tell you. There was also the time he almost fought a guy who cut in front of him in the concession stand line. In front of our entire team. If those guys didn’t teach you how to just play the game and be humble, I don’t really know who could.
Lastly, I had the privilege of playing for Coach Brian Nebel ‘Neebs’ for four seasons. He was a quiet guy when he needed to be, but sure knew how to get his point across. His look alone would tell you that you were not playing the way that he wanted you to. He was the quintessential players coach. He loved, respected and cared for every single player he has ever coached and will continue to coach. He is one of those coaches who is still followed religiously by his former players and beloved by them. He is the coach who becomes a great friend immediately after his tenure as your coach. He goes out of his way to make sure his players are taken care of and has sacrificed more than even I know, for the benefit of his players. He gave me my first ‘real job’ and was a definite father figure to me. He is still coaching at the Bantam level today and is still instilling the same principles on his current players. I can tell this because his former players are still very much present in his life. He is the coach I most try to emulate when I am coaching and I know I learned more about life’s lessons from him than anyone else that has crossed my path since. He truly is one of those people who effects so many lives and never looks for an ounce of credit, because it’s in his DNA, it’s what he loves to do.
Though I had many other coaches, the aforementioned people will always stick out in my mind for lessons they taught both on and off the ice. I have taken a page from each of their playbooks and incorporate it into how I go about coaching the game. I thank each and every coach I have ever had for taken the time out of their lives to coach, teach and mentor me.
Other people that deserve recognition are my parents. Without their love and support (including financially) I would have not been afforded the opportunity to learn and grow to love this game. They were my free taxi, my biggest fans and always expected the best of me.
I have to say thank you to my brother and sister for recognizing that family vacations were going to be taken in the winter and were going to be based on my hockey schedule. Without them being willing to invest in all the travel time and cold ice rinks, I would not have been able to play. My sister sacrificed her dancing and figure skating while my brother sacrificed his own hockey career for mine.
Finally I have to thank my Aunt Crystal and Uncle Derrick for pushing me to start coaching some 8 years ago. If I would have not made the transition to coaching, I may not have gained the knowledge and experience that I am able to share with you today.
If you’ve made it this far and are part of my fantasy hockey league, here’s a tip: I plan on taking Giroux with the 7th pick in tonight’s draft!