New Jets Hockey Development Coach Excited for Growth and Development

For Jets Hockey Development’s newest coach Venla Hovi, the growth process has always been a big part of her hockey career.

Growing up in Tampere, Finland, outdoor ice was her main field of play and boys were her main competition. Hovi has seen nothing but growth since then, as she climbed her way to the top of women’s hockey by gathering several medals for Team Finland in numerous Olympic Games and World Championships, along with a USports national championship while playing for the University of Manitoba Bisons and a Canadian Women’s Hockey League title with Calgary Inferno. But it’s been the process that has been most rewarding for Hovi.

“My highlight from my career is just the overall progress and the journey of growing as a person and getting to know myself more as an athlete,” said Hovi while reflecting on her hockey career.

Despite retiring from playing competitive hockey, that growth is not about to stop for Hovi. Taking on a coaching role with the Jets Hockey Development (JHD) team at the Bell MTS Iceplex is just the next stage of growth for her, even if she didn’t foresee it being her next career path.

“I coached at some camps and helped out at volunteer events in Finland when I played there,” said Hovi. “When I moved to Winnipeg to attend the University of Manitoba, I got the chance to start coaching on the side. It was just easy to work around my hockey and school schedule so I started to get into it more. Even then I never really thought that this was going to be my possible career path. I just did it because I wanted to learn more and I enjoyed it.

“When I graduated and played in Calgary and started to look for jobs after retirement, I looked for jobs in different fields. Coaching was just one option, and I got the most opportunities there so I wanted to grab on to the chance.”

That chance resulted in Hovi joining JHD. Just a few weeks into her position, she’s looking forward to not only developing young hockey players but doing some development of her own.

“The learning process is important, and I want to get more comfortable on the ice,” Hovi noted.

It may sound odd for a hockey player with the experience that Hovi has to talk about “getting comfortable on the ice”, but she explained that playing hockey and coaching hockey are very different concepts.

“Coaching is really challenging and I love that. It’s something new, something fresh. It’s definitely a different perspective, and you really need to get to know your players. It’s not about yourself, it’s about other people. I think there is still a lot for me to figure out because I’m at the start of my career, but I love the challenge and seeing the kids have fun on the ice.”

Though the switch to coaching will bring changes and challenges in her life, there are aspects to being on the JHD team that have made Hovi feel right at home.

“My life, in a way, is still the same. I’m still always at the rink, I still have my stall in the dressing room even though it’s just for coaches. It’s like a little team we have there.”

Hovi will no doubt grow quickly in her role, and the JHD team certainly has plenty of experience for her to learn from. But the JHD team will also be learning from Hovi, and will be growing with her on board as she joins JHD as its first full-time female coach. Hovi knows that having both male and female coaches will make JHD programs even better, and not just because it may attract more girls to hockey.

“I really love it when there are more female coaches,” Hovi said. “Obviously we want to encourage girls to play, but I think the strength of our program is having the opportunity to have guys coaching girls, and myself coaching guys and the mix that we have. I think boys and girls can both learn a lot from each other.”


Hockey Canada U17 Summer Development Camp Debrief

This June, walking through the hallway of the Bell MTS Iceplex during Winnipeg Jets Development Camp, I was reminded about how important the Hockey Canada experience is for players. In between sessions with the Jets, a former player from my first year with Team Canada (Team Black), now drafted by the Jets, came and struck up a conversation saying how much he loved the U17 camp and how important that time was for his development as a player.

Each year I have been invited to work with Hockey Canada’s U17 Development Program, there have been different goals and challenges that come up. This year’s camp, which ran from July 19-26, was challenging physically and mentally as players and coaches worked through seven days of practice, meetings, games, and testing to help players learn about doing things the “Canadian Way”.

We had an incredibly talented group of players from across Canada who quickly bonded over team-building exercises, grueling practices, and demanding days. It is hard to imagine that only one week earlier, most of these players had never met each other. To me, that is one of the best parts of the game of hockey. No matter where players are from, or what language they speak, players can bond over their love for the game.

Our job as coaches was to get to know players as quick as possible to help them work on deficiencies and learn more about playing at the highest level. The toughest part was our staff (consisting of a Director of Operations, Head Coach, two Assistant Coaches, four Camp Coaches, two Skills Coaches, Video Coach, Mental Performance Coach, three Therapists, and three Equipment Managers) had never worked together before. Communication started weeks before the event to try to get to know the coaching staff and illustrate my role to learn more about the coach’s vision and direction they wanted to take the team. Everything I plan as a skills coach is based on the coach’s direction and how he wants his team to play. Skill topics I teach are all carefully discussed to make sure that everything ties back into our team culture and team identity. Working together as a staff to make sure the kids have a great week is a huge part of the camp. Each night after the players went to sleep, the coaches carefully laid out themes for upcoming days to make sure the execution of practice was done to the highest standards.

Players learned new skills, new concepts, and talked about the game at a higher level than they had seen before. As coaches, we try to expose the players to the next level ofthe game so they can take these concepts back home with them to continue to work on through next season. Many of the players will play at the CHL level next season against bigger, stronger, and faster competition. They will face adversity that they may not be used to, and it is important that they can look back on situations like this week and continue to build confidence moving forward.

 

I am very fortunate to work with these players each summer to help in their development. These 112 players from across Canada come into camp as very good players. The constant message I try to help them learn is that they are very good players, but you have to get better. I try to remind them that attitude is everything at this age and every time they are on the ice, they must get better. I am already looking forward to November to see where our final team lands against the best competition in the world.

 


Effective Practice Planning for Coaches

Practice is a time when players should be coming to the rink to work and get better. This time for coaches can be used to work on individual needs of players, address issues that have come up from games and spend time with players to help build relationships. In order for players to be willing to make changes, they have to trust the coach and understand why they are doing specific things.

Effective practice planning for a coach can help create an environment where players want to come and develop. Here are some simple principles for coaches to help plan practices:

Decide on a topic that you want to address for that day

  • For me as a skills coach, this is drastically different than for a team coach but the principle remains the same. Trying to do everything in one practice won’t help the players as they will end up just doing drills and not learning about the concepts behind them. For example, if in your last game your team struggled with offensive zone entries and you want to work on this, you can structure your practice around that concept. Your warm-up shooting drill can include shots from a wide entry (with speed). Your next drill can incorporate a net drive player. Your third drill can include a late player coming with a delay or a direct pass to a high player. The final drill can add the competition of a three-on-two so players can use the skills they worked on in the first three drills. As the season progresses, the drills can evolve to add different options that could happen in the game. By showing players options related to a topic in practice, you are helping them understand what could happen and giving them choices to make in the game. The goal is that players learn to make positive plays by recognizing the situation and making the right decision. If players make the right decision, give them a pat on the back or words of encouragement as soon as they get back to the bench. If they could have made a better decision, explain why there may have been a better choice. By identifying specifics in practice, you can help players progress through the season.

Be organized in your drill progressions

  • By having a structure for practice, it will make things flow a lot better. A simple progression that works for teams would be to have players warm up with either skating or skills while the goalie has some dedicated time at the beginning of practice to warm up. This time for the goalie can be with a goalie coach or a coach as a shooter. The time required can change based on what is needed and what practice looks like. This is a good opportunity to give players a puck more often or work on something that doesn’t require a shot on goal (i.e., puck protection). This time split between players and goalie is best used as a lead into the topic for the day. Once you get through the warm-up, a simple progression I use is what I call 1-2-3.  This simply means the warm-up drill has one player shooting (typically a simple shot from a wide lane); the next drill has two players (typically adding in a lateral pass or a mid-lane entry to a wide shot); and the next drill has three players (this is a simple progression to lead into a topic like offensive zone entries, whereas other topics would require a very different progression based on what is being worked on). The time before the shooting drills is structured in a way to maximize players touching the puck and minimize time standing in lines.

Think about your goalies in practice

  • The most effective practice for your goalies is to allow them to see the different types of shots that they may face in a game and allow them the necessary reps to practice those scenarios. The most common frustration I hear from goalies is they see the same shot over and over again in practice. If your warm-up shooting drill includes a shot from the outside wide lane and the second drill includes a shot from the outside, the goalie is seeing the exact same shot for two drills. To make practice better for the goalies, try to provide different shots, or encourage them to move in different patterns for each drill. Here are some ways to challenge goalies in practice:
    – Add lateral passes
    – Add low to high passes (passes from corner to the point)
    – Change distance of shots
    – Add plays from below the goal line
    – Add screens, tips, deflections, angle deflections
    – Encourage players to play any rebounds
    – Use multiple shots in a drill (I call these drills scrambles or flurries as they simulate a shift where goalies see three to four shots in a short period of time. Goalies come to practice to work as well. They will be tired after these drills so try to space them out so they are not back to back.)

Speak to players in practice in a constructive way

  • Players at every age want to learn about the game and they want to get better. Spend time talking to players individually before, during, and after practice to help get to know them. Each player is going to be motivated in a different way and your job as a coach is to figure out how to get the most out of each player. As each player gets better individually, the overall level of your team goes up. If you see players doing something wrong in a drill you can talk to them while they are waiting for their next rep and explain what they can change. If you see multiple players making the same mistake, that would be a good time to stop the drill. Try explaining the drill (or concept) in a different way or simply demonstrate the “better” way to do it. Letting players do drills wrong in practice will lead to them doing that in a game and thinking it is okay. Good communication between coaches and players in practice will lead to more effective communication on the bench in games.

Use a variety of drills in practice

  • If players come to practice and see the same four to six drills every single day, they will go into autopilot mode and just go through the motions. Players at any age want to be challenged and they will respond to something fresh or different. Every coach has favourite drills that they like to use for specific topics. However, if the same drills are used frequently, the options in the drills can change. This way, the structure looks the same but the drill is different from day-to-day. Using a variety of drills or changing options in drills will challenge players to think just like they do in games. This will encourage players to remain focused in practice just like they have to be in games. As a coach, you will see players who can adjust to options, and you will see players who have trouble with things like switching sides in drills. This may be an indicator to a coach that more time needs to be spent explaining concepts and “checking in” to ensure players understand.

The goal for coaches should be to help players develop from the start of the season to the end of the season. Players can develop both individually in their personal skill set, as well as develop as a team in the way they execute team systems. The best coaches can lead and encourage both of these to happen through effective practice planning and time management in practice. Through the Jets Hockey Development Program, we work with players and coaches to help develop the game of hockey, both provincially and through Hockey Canada on a national scale. Be sure to check bellmtsiceplex.ca to see what coaching seminars are added to our summer and winter schedules for 2019-20.


Israeli boys living out hockey dreams at Bell MTS Iceplex

In a dry, sun-soaked country like Israel, many children have never even seen snow, let alone heard of ice hockey. That’s not the case for a group of boys from the Middle Eastern country who have come to Bell MTS Iceplex to chase their hockey dreams.

Guy Rozin, along with his father Roei and family, are entering their fourth year in Winnipeg and, living here full-time, paved the way for others to join them. Ido Steinberg, Noam Haba, Itay Vaitz, Itamar Melzer, and Ethan Gurfinkel saw the opportunity that Guy had with Jets Hockey Development (JHD) and made the nearly 10,000 kilometer-journey to Winnipeg at the end of June.

With only two ice rinks in the whole country of Israel, ice hockey isn’t even close to a popular sport. In-line hockey played on roller skates, though still not massively popular, is more common. That’s where Guy first developed his passion for the game.

“I thought after five or six lessons he would stop,” said Roei about Guy when he started learning in-line hockey at an after-school program in their hometown of Netanya. “But he kept going day after day, so I decided I needed to see what was going on there. Practice after practice he started to get good, and he developed a passion for it.”

That passion eventually transferred to the ice but the countless hours of driving and lack of programming became too much of an obstacle to stay in Israel to nurture Guy’s hockey passion. After visiting many coaches across Europe, the Rozins made a connection with the father of someone they knew in Israel who lived in Winnipeg. With some assistance, they got them to Winnipeg, where they met JHD coach Dean Court and asked if Guy could try out for a team here.

“When we first met Roei, we had no idea what his son’s playing ability was,” noted Court. “It’s like having someone walk in and say, ‘I want to try out for the Manitoba Moose’. It doesn’t work that way. But we watched Guy, and we said, ‘Holy cow, he’s got total raw talent, but he needs to learn the game the Canadian way’. So what Guy did is he went on the ice and trained, then he went to AAA tryouts and he made the Winnipeg Monarchs. So we’ve helped nurture this along the way – it’s a partnership, which is the way we approach training with all of our young talents.”

The move wasn’t easy at first for the Rozins but it was important for them to allow their son to chase his dream.

“When we first moved, a lot of people in Israel said we were crazy,” said Roei. “But suddenly people started to call me and say that their children wanted to play hockey. This year, one family in Israel called me and wanted to send their boy here. So I said ‘okay.’”

One call turned into five calls, and Roei kept saying yes. As a result, his family welcomed Steinberg, Haba, Vaitz, Melzer, and Gurfinkel to live with them so they could pursue their own hockey dreams and train at the Iceplex.

Though the boys are far from home, there is no place they would rather be.

“If it was possible, I would live on the ice,” said Steinberg.

“I love everything about the game,” added Guy. “The speed, the feeling when you hit someone, shooting and scoring too.”

The boys also note how vastly different the training is at the Iceplex than it is in Israel.

“Training here is more professional,” remarked Steinberg. “You train every week, not every month.”

“Two months of training here is like four years in Israel,” joked Haba.

It’s not tough to see how much the boys are enjoying their time in Winnipeg and at the Iceplex. Giving that experience to other youth from Israel is something Roei has dreamt about since he arrived in Winnipeg and saw his own son live out his dream.

“When I arrived here in Canada, my vision was to bring a lot of kids from Israel to play hockey here. I have lots of connections, so I’m sure I could get 20 boys out here. And we have connections with Dean Court, Dave Cameron (Head On-Ice Instructor and Program Manager, JHD), and now AJ Zeglen (Manager, High-Performance Training, Focus Fitness), and all of them have helped the boys so much. Andy Kollar (Head Instructor, Goaltender Development, and JHD) has been a huge help for the two boys I have here that are goalies – he is their hero. But I’m looking to bring lots of people here.”

The opportunity to work with talents from other countries and provide a specialized training experience that cannot be found in their home country is rewarding for Court and his JHD team. They use each on and off-ice session to show Roie, Guy and this year’s newest Israeli players that they made the right choice in investing their hockey future in the high caliber training of JHD.

“Roie has brought these kids in. There are lots of kids from Israel that would like to come here. But he’s one guy and he can’t bring everyone here, but he’s getting calls every day. For us, we want to give Guy and Roie and his family the best service that we can. We want to be able to do the right thing and do it the Hockey Canada way. What that means is making sure they get all the proper fundamental training at an elite level.”


Choosing the Right Goalie Equipment

Choosing the right equipment for growing and developing hockey players can be a challenge for everyone, but even more so for a goaltender.

Finding what works for each goaltender can be different based on, size, style, and preference.

The importance of proper gear is obvious, as goalies wearing the wrong equipment can lead to bad habits and poor performance. So, when it’s time to shop for equipment, it is essential to choose a retailer that has experienced and educated sales representatives that know what they are talking about. The annual Royal Sports Goalapalooza event hosted at Bell MTS Iceplex is a great opportunity to try new equipment and see what you like or what feels comfortable with all the top goalie brands. Throughout the event, players of all ages can try on the newest products available and talk to representatives from each company as well as equipment designers, and experts from Royal Sports who are on the pulse of goalie product knowledge. But the best part is that the event also offers a chance for players to get on the ice in the Iceplex’s Ice Lab – a 45’ by 37’ sheet of ice designed for goalie development – as part of the experience, to test out and compare the newest equipment across the industry.

Representatives from all major brands, including Warrior, CCM, Bauer, Vaughn, and Brian’s, were on-site at this year’s event to make sure their equipment was being worn properly. They brought everything a goalie could want, including skates, pads, sticks, and helmets for players to try in the Ice Lab. In addition to the sales representatives, a member of the Warrior Research and Development team from Montreal was on hand to discuss the features and benefits of new products with goalies and gage their preferences. The important thing to remember is that goalies’ hand and body dimensions are all different and unique. This makes it crucial to choose equipment based on what’s best for you, rather than based on a favourite brand. Just because you like a brand or company doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best fit. Often when a player comes into the Ice Lab and is having difficulty with a specific skill, like catching, we will have them switch their glove and try something new. Players seem to be able to adjust quickly and can see the difference that a new piece of equipment will make to their game. The next time you need to upgrade or replace your or your child’s goalie equipment, make sure to see the professionals or join us in the Ice Lab at Bell MTS Iceplex.

If you’re looking to work on your goaltending skills this summer, attending the Big Ice Summer Camps – July 22-26 and July 29-August 2 – and/ or private Ice Lab sessions will ensure you’re ready for training camp and prepared for the season ahead.

Originally published in Game On Magazine, Year 7/Edition 7