The first full-time director of hockey development hired by the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association is leaving.
James Eccles, who was hired at the start of the hockey season in September 2013, has served notice he will be leaving the Rustlers at the end of this month.
Eccles said the decision was made for family and personal reasons, and it will take him into the Interior. He will work with a Hockey Canada Skills Academy in Kelowna, will continue to run coaching clinics for Hockey Canada, and will also be the coach of the pee wee rep team for the West Kelowna Minor Hockey Association, he said.
“Thanks to all the kids and volunteers in Ridge Meadows,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to walk away from all my kids and coaches.”
Eccles is a former Ridge Meadows Flames from 1996, and went on to play four seasons at Kent State University. His approach has been to ensure the main goals of hockey are having fun and creating good hockey players, rather than emphasizing wins and losses.
Adam Schwartz, association president, said Eccles shocked the executive with his announcement.
“He bleeds Rustler red, loves the kids in the association, and we are sad to see him go,” he said.
Schwartz added he was always impressed by the way someone could mention one of the 1,000 players in the association, and Eccles could always talk knowledgeably about that kid, and what his or her tendencies were as a hockey player.
Eccles didn’t do the job from a desk.
”James’ biggest impact was on the ice with the kids,” he said. “The kids loved him.”
Personal touches aside, Eccles has become a coach with a lot of credentials, Schwartz added, and he mentors coaches, offers hitting clinics and “BC Hockey leans on him a lot.”
He said the decision to hire a full-time director of hockey development was debated in Ridge Meadows at the time, but Eccles made it the right decision.
“It was a bold move, and we’re glad we did it. Our development program is very strong now.”
Schwartz said the association’s executive can now decide whether it would like to hire another full-time replacement for Eccles, or take a different approach.
For now, development will be mostly delivered by part-time coaches Mike Legg and Jim Strang.