A senior hockey team is a puzzle of pieces to fit together, with traveling, families, work, practice and games all vying for a player’s time, things can get tricky. This means the players have to have enough passion to overcome; the coach needs to administrate as much as coach and the community needs to be as much a part of the team as anyone on, or behind, the bench.
Last year that mix of people came together perfectly to give the ‘Roos a great season. This year, things are changing; there will be new players out there on the ice and new coaches behind the bench, but it’s the same community, which Brian Kozak, the new head coach, is happy about.
“That’s the beauty, that’s what we saw last year,” Kozak said about the community support for the team.
“I was with the Mills and I saw how that went. And all of a sudden you bring back the ‘Roos and you’ve got all this local talent and the community supported them fantastically. And now we have a high brand of hockey that is something the family can go out and enjoy.”
Kozak is very aware of the intersection between the people on the ice and the people in the stands. He knows the worlds are connected and for the team to flourish it needs people on both sides of the glass to support the team. To get those fans onside, the ‘Roos need to give back. And one of those ways is to make sure the community has a bit more fun together.
“It’s nine nights out, nine home games, to have with your friend or family,” Kozak said.
“And that’s good for the whole community. When teams win, there’s a different feeling in the community.”
Because each player has a job and other responsibilities in the community, activities step on each other’s toes and things begin to get a bit difficult. Practice time can interfere with family time and work may interfere with games, until the whole community is involved in problem–solving to make sure the players can do their best.
That crunch can scare skilled players away. But Kozak wants to assure anyone who is staying away because of the scheduling crunch that he’s aware of it.
“We understand people have jobs and families and we’re willing to work around that as much as possible,” Kozak said.
“The more we can get local talent the better, cause there’s a ton of talent here they just have responsibilities. If they understand we’re willing to work with them then, for me, I don’t have to go out of town.”
Though the community is small and potential players have a lot on their plates, Kozak is hoping to keep the team local. Teams will fish through close towns to try to entice players to make the jump and if he needs to find some extra players to make a dynamic team that will get the fans on their feet, he’ll be relying on the community to draw people.
One way in which employers in the community have stepped up this year is to offer job openings to people who come up and play hockey with the ‘Roos.
Kozak knows from personal experience how hockey can draw people to the community, while the community itself encourages them to stay; he was drawn to the community himself for hockey and loves the community.
Kozak has brought in other new coaches to help him mold the team into a highly competitive whole. Bill McMillan has joined the ‘Roos and with a background in goaltending he’ll be working with the guys between the posts to make sure there’s a steady anchor behind the team.
As the team is finding it’s footing in the community for its new year, it’s also trying to find its footing on the ice.
With the pressure the players feel to perform on the ice as hockey players and off the ice as fathers and employees, there is a lot going into the consideration of how the team wants to tackle this year. Sometimes skaters just don’t have much to sacrifice for the team, being squeezed by too many responsibilities. If enough players feel the squeeze, the team will have to pull back. This year the ‘Roos are lucky to have a team of dedicated skaters that want not only to win, but to give the town a good show every time they’re in town.
“What we’ve been discussing over the last couple practices is how the team wants to be known as that type of team: hard working, we play fair and it’ll be hard to play against us because we’re going to force you all over the ice,” Kozak said.
Now it’s up to the players to work themselves back into peak shape before the season starts. With three weeks before the opening game, Oct. 13 here in Quesnel, the team is still open to bringing in new players so the team doesn’t go dry on talent if there are injuries.
For those brave enough to have a go, the team offers the chance to play high-level competitive hockey and learn more about the national game.
“Even if guys don’t stick with the team, one player I talked to understands this is an opportunity for him to learn the game and he said to me, ‘even if I don’t play a game – my goal is to play a game – but I want to support the team, learn the game and I’ll be a practice guy there and give everything I have to play.’” Kovak said.
“To me that’s a beautiful thing.”
As the players and coaches work out the final wrinkles in the ‘Roos, fans will have to wait three more weeks before getting to watch the first home game of the season to see how all the pre-season training and try-outs have worked for the young team. Come next month it’ll be there though, the culmination of a community’s work.