AHU Coach’s Corner: My long journey through hockey has brought me back home
What was even better was hearing all the parents and kids from the other teams saying, “I didn’t even know that they had hockey in Arizona.”
Hearing that as a young kid growing up, knowing that I wanted to be involved in hockey my entire life, whether it was playing or coaching, lit a passion in me that I hope every young hockey player in the state of Arizona can feel some day.
As a youth, I played for the Polar Bears as a Mite and then I moved to DYHA and played for the Firebirds until I was a first-year Midget. My first year of Bantams was a tough one, breaking four bones and having shoulder surgery.
People were telling my family that I should stop playing hockey. That made me strive to be the best I could be. I played one year for the P.F. Chang’s 18U AAA team at the young age of 14 under coach Jimmy Johnson and from then on, it was hockey, hockey, and more hockey.
Johnson was a respected player and coach everywhere he went and taught me a lot about the game and helped me realize what it took to play at the next level. I was playing with kids that were four years older than me, so at the start, it was a bit of a challenge.
After that season, I got drafted into the USHL by the Fargo Force. Coach Dean Blais called to congratulate me on getting drafted, but also said, “You haven’t made the team yet, so get to work.” That is something that has stuck with me my whole career because as a hockey player, nothing is ever given to you. It’s earned.
I spent the next three years of my life in Fargo and I am so thankful and humbled I was able to play at such a high level at such a young age. After my three-year career in Fargo, I was headed an hour north to play for one of the best teams in college hockey, the University of North Dakota, where more adversity awaited.
Before I got to Fargo, I took online classes my freshman year to accelerate high school so I could have my last year in Fargo to focus on hockey. That was great at the time, but when I got to UND, some of my credits didn’t transfer and I was forced to sit out one season without skating with the team or anything. I remember coach Dave Hakstol, who is now the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, pulling me into his office and we got both my parents on the phone to explain all my options. Hakstol told my parents and I that I had two options – stick it out here for a year and train on my own, or go to the Western Hockey League.
I looked at him with my parents on the speakerphone and I simply said, “I don’t need any more time to think. I want to be a Sioux.”
Then four years later during my senior season, I went through two shoulder surgeries that kept me out for about 80 percent of the season, but it was all worth it skating around that ice hoisting the trophy as a national champion last April.
Now, I am going to be the coach-GM of the Phoenix Knights and I am up for the challenge because what is hockey without a little adversity? Point being, for all you passionate young hockey players out there, never let anything stop you or let anyone tell you that you can’t do something – go out and take it.
Colten St. Clair is the head coach and general manager of the Phoenix Knights Tier II junior team in the Western States Hockey League and the skills coach for the Arizona Hockey Union.