Mission brings Canadian flare to Arizona
When the idea of “culture” ventures into the sports lexicon, it’s most often associated with the way players inside a locker room are able – or possibly not – to play together as a united front.
But what about the “culture” a coach brings from the outside to his or her team?
For two Mission Arizona squads in particular, it’s the traits and personality of a particular geographic culture – one where hockey was, is and always will be king – a pair of individuals is bringing to the table during the 2014-15 season.
As Mission Arizona coach-in-chief Jeremy Goltz puts it, the “culture” that coaches Darrell Martin and Kelsey McLean champion is obvious if not useful: They’re both native Canadians, sharing a wealth of firsthand, day-after-day knowledge of the sport to a desert hockey community still finding its way in many respects.
“Kelsey has done a great job bringing good energy and a strong work ethic to the younger teams, and Marts is a wily veteran voice who doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s spot on,” Goltz said.
“It’s like having both a young and old lion on our staff. Both are great assets. They bring a good perspective to their teams.”
Just this past month, Martin, an assistant coach for Mission’s Pee Wee Red team, helped guide that unit to the title in its division at the 16th Annual Coyote Cup Hockey Festival.
Martin and McLean, a Mission Mite head coach while also serving as a Squirt assistant, both agree that the hockey mindset in Canada is simply different than down here in the growing southwest.
“In Canada, hockey is football, right? Everybody plays, and the talent pool is huge,” Martin said.
McLean echoed that sentiment, adding: “It really is like football. If you think of something that’s kind of recent, look at the World Junior Championship. When you grow up in Canada – and I think Russia may be kind of similar too – that’s the culture of it.
“Everyone sits down together and watches Team Canada. It doesn’t matter where the game is. Kids get home after school and they sit down to watch it. That’s what World Juniors was like.”
To McLean, a native of Kingston, Ontario, who played junior hockey in Canada near Niagara Falls before a college hockey stint as a goalie at the University of Tennessee, that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of talent and interest down here in the states; rather, it’s that there’s a bigger fight for a youngster’s attention when he or she is deciding between a number of sports or other extracurricular opportunities to occupy their time.
While the coaches try to instill a passion for the game that they each grew up with and carried with them as they trekked south, both note that they enjoy coaching at the younger levels because, in a manner of speaking, the kids aren’t yet taking the game too seriously for their own good.
Martin, who hails from British Columbia, said he enjoys that relatively simple approach that comes from coaching one of the younger-aged teams.
“I don’t think we over-coach at this age,” he said, specifically referring to the mindset in place in the Mission program. “I think it’s about letting the kids have some fun while they’re learning.”
Added McLean, of the innocence of younger players: “It helps out that they’re so young. I always remember a couple years ago, when I was coaching the House Selects program and we got creamed, and two minutes into the locker room after the game, one kid turns and asks another kid if he wanted to come over and play Minecraft.
“I knew right there we were all right.”
– Brett Fera