August 24, 2013 – Compared to Midget hockey, there is significant drop-off in the number of associations that offer minor hockey to 18-2o year old players. With about 30 associations fielding teams at the Midget rep level, that number decreases to 15 teams at the Juvenile rep level. For players not moving on to Junior A, Junior B or University, this period often spells the end of their hockey playing days.
At North Vancouver Minor Hockey, the association has not only remained committed to extending the minor hockey experience for its players, but has encouraged its players to continue playing at the highly competitive Juvenile rep level, fielding two rep teams plus one C division team in recent years. With a large number of players interested this year, it could possibly ice three Juvenile rep teams.
About 15 of those players will end up under the supervision of Coach Ben Jang, who will be entering his 5th season behind the bench for the Juvenile A2 team and his 19th season as a coach.
“I get a big kick out of – as corny as it sounds – the idea that we can make a big difference,” said Jang when asked why he volunteers year after year. Jang recognizes that the experience that players have at this age will often dictate whether they seek out opportunities to stay active in the sport into their twenties and beyond or whether they simply hang up the skates once they’re finished with minor hockey. Part of ensuring that the experience will be positive is a coaching philosophy centred on respect for the game, teammates and opponents.
“We try to show players that you can play the right way, play other teams straight up, not need to drop the mitts, and still be competitive and win banners. If you look at the A2 team over the last few years, we’re always amongst the least penalized teams in the league and we’re able to combine that with winning records in most years.”
While coaches of peewee and bantam aged players often have to contend ambitions of grandeur from either players or parents, Jang realizes that he is lucky to have players who are there simply because they enjoy playing hockey.
“If you’re playing juvenile, you’re either in school or working and you’re here because of your love of the game,” said Jang.
The Juvenile program also has a potential appeal for competitive players who would get more minutes as part of a Juvenile team rather than getting marginal ice time on a Junior B roster.
“I try to run it like a house-league team where the minutes are spread around pretty evenly,” said Jang. “I don’t necessarily have a powerplay or penalty killing unit. I’ll still pair players with other players and might have to tighten the bench up in a close game, but overall everyone gets a chance to play on our team.”
That strategy might sound like madness in the world of rep coaching, but one can hardly argue with the results. Coach Jang’s team tied for first place in points in their tier last year and won a number of banners the year before that. This year’s team is yet to be selected, but if past experience is any indication, it will likely be a deep, disciplined and hardworking team that will contend in their division.
North Vancouver is encouraging players from other associations who do not offer Juvenile hockey to contact them about playing opportunities for the upcoming season.