Seafair steps up with pro coaches

in Other News


Derek Popke and Yogi Svejkovsky


Long gone are the days when youth sports organizations are run by nothing but volunteers at the administrative and player development levels. That is no more apparent than what two of Richmond’s minor hockey associations have been up to lately.

When Richmond Minor wanted to take a significant step with its on ice instruction, it promptly hired successful, longtime Seafair Minor Hockey coaches Al Wozney and Glenn Wheeler as Directors of Hockey Development.

Their full-time salary positions replaced what previously was contracted out to private instructors and hockey schools, It follows a trend of what many of Metro Vancouver’s minor hockey associations are doing.

The departure of two of its top coaches initially put Seafair Minor in damage control as parents and players wondered what was about to happen to the organization that had enjoyed tremendous success and growth in recent years.

However, Seafair responded by creating its own professional staff — hiring Derek Popke and Yogi Svejkovsky as Director of Player Development and Director of Hockey Operations respectively.

Popke has a reputation as one of the top power skating instructors in the country and was already doing contractual work with Seafair. Svejkovsky, a former NHLer, is an associate coach with the Vancouver Giants and had been working with South Delta Minor Hockey.

“The neat thing is both came to us,” explained Seafair executive director Ken Hamaguchi. “Derek liked working with us and was interested in expanding his role and Yogi liked our program and wanted to be part of it. They’re not only good people on the ice but off of it as well.

“In the end, I think it’s the people of Richmond who will benefit the most from what both associations are doing. Al and Glenn got a great offer and we are happy for them. Progression and new ideas can be a good thing.”

Seafair has moved forward by naming longtime local hockey coach Russ Weber as the man in charge of the association’s top Bantam rep team next season — working with a very talented group of 1996 kids that have gone through the minor hockey ranks under Wheeler’s direction.

Weber has coached all levels of hockey through to junior and will also serve as head coach of the B.C. U16 team that will be competing at the 2011 Canada Winter Games.

Seafair also announced Hamaguchi has been hired as its first-ever paid executive director. The part-time position includes overseeing all of the association’s on and off ice operations as well as an estimated annual operating budget of $500,000. He is no stranger to the organization, having volunteered for years as a coach and on the executive, including a three-year stint as president. His sons are long removed from minor hockey and were key members of the Richmond Sockeyes last season.

“With the high expectations from parents to provide a quality program, it became more evident that we needed a way to manage our program in the most efficient and effective way possible,” said Hamaguchi. ” To rely on volunteers to do this, was becoming more of a challenge.”

His number one priority will be continuing the momentum Seafair has gained in recent years.

Registration continues to increase and could surpass 600 for the coming season. Seafair was also named Association of the Year at the recent Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association’s AGM.

Hamaguchi also went home with executive-of-the-year honours.

He says he will also be focusing on community building and taking more advantage of the support the organization has received over the years.