“The honeymoon year,” is how James Eccles describes his first season as director of hockey development with the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association.
Eccles, the association’s first full-time paid coach, signed a three-year deal.
The first year – you could call it his rookie season – was been about meeting people, learning about the culture of Ridge minor hockey, and laying the foundation for the work to come.
This year, he plans to hit the ground running.
Skillful players is the end goal, and the first year saw the formation of a new skill development committee, made up of past players, experienced coaches and other people with something to offer. There are 17 of them, who work directly with kids and offer coaches new ideas.
“And, of course, I’m there as a resource that people can rely on,” said Eccles, noting that he will continue to offer extra sessions for players.
His message is that coaches must continue to teach the basics, but if they always do so in the same ways, their message will become stale.
“It can’t be the same old Xs and Os,” he said.
Seeing kids fly through drills they have executed hundreds of times is not the goal.
“Coaches need to learn how to challenge their players. They’ll respect you more as a person and a coach.”
The skill development group put together a skill development plan that includes offence, defence and goaltending skills. They have assembled more than 200 videos demonstrating drills that will enhance the skills they want to emphasize.
Players can watch the drills on their home computers or devices before practice, and coaches can bring a tabled out onto the ice to demonstrate.
The great benefit to having that sort of resource is continuity – players should continue to receive the same message, with the same approach, throughout their career in Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey.
Eccles also likes to keep it fun. His approach would never intimidate a young Bambi heading onto the ice.
“We need a family atmosphere – people want to come out and have fun in the game of hockey.”
Maple Ridge Minor Hockey has a proud legacy, from Boston Bruins great Cam Neely, to Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd, to the newest crop of NHLers including Nashville Predators blueliner Vic Bartley. What’s missing, to some parents, is rep hockey teams that win tournaments and championships at the top level, and programs keep the elite players from leaving for other associations.
“Everyone wants to see our development increase,” said Eccles.
Nobody more than him. He lives and breathes this stuff.
In May, Eccles had the honour of representing BC Hockey at the Hockey Canada Skill Development and National Coaching Mentorship Program weekend. He also took more training, including on-ice sessions, and receiving further skating and skills certification.
“It was a phenomenal weekend of dialogue, skill development breakdowns and on ice execution of the new developments all at the same time, while growing my hockey career resume one more step further to the National Masters of Hockey accreditation that colleagues and mentors of mine possess within Canada,” he wrote about the weekend.
What is the hockey culture he found in Maple Ridge?
“What’s our culture and our identity? It develops on its own. It’s good, humble, hard-working people.”