Building Champions Camp a chance to learn

As the late days of summer roll by, familiar sounds of sticks and skates hitting the ice are heard all across the country. This week in Medicine Hat, the scenario is no different, as the South East Athletic Club hosts its first ever Building Champions Development Camp at the Family Leisure Centre.

While hockey camps are hardly unique this time of year, the event underway at the FLC is a little bit different. Bantam and Midget aged players are receiving on and off-ice lessons of course, but interestingly, the coaches are as well.

“It’s to get our name out there, bring the kids in and it’s about development from the start of the season,” says SEAC president Terry Bartman. “We’ve added a little bit of new blood this year with the Coach’s Edge being a part of our group. We want to instill some of their beliefs that our board strongly believes in to our coaching staffs and to the kids that are eventually going to come and try out for our teams this fall.”

Responsible for helping set and implement that vision is the Coach’s Edge program, the brainchild of educators Dan MacDonald and Doug Raycroft. The two men met when Doug was hired to turn around the Strathmore Bisons Midget AAA program, and are in their second year of operation with the Coach’s Edge enterprise. These days they’re looking to share the secrets of their successes with select hockey organizations.

“We hired Dan to be a teacher at our school and also coach the AAA midget team,” says co-founder Doug Raycroft, an associate principal at Strathmore High School. “In Strathmore, the Bison team and school have an association partnership together.”

After failing to get out of the first round of the playoffs for a decade, in two years under Doug and Dan’s watch, the Bisons made a trip to the 2015 Telus Cup to compete for a national Midget AAA championship.

“Doug helped me with the Bisons the two years I was there so we got to know each other pretty well,” says MacDonald. “We had the same philosophies in everything we do. We’re teachers first and coaches second. Our philosophies are student-based, and that’s something we thought was kind of lacking in hockey today. Too many people worrying about the end result of ‘Did we win today?’”.

The forward-thinking approach of Coach’s Edge has proven successful over the years. Dan’s trip to the national championships with the Bisons in 2015 was his fifth appearance at the event, having previously taken the Red Deer AAA Midget Chiefs to the Telus Cup four times.

“We’re trying to get all the coaches on the same page in terms of how they teach fundamentals, so that all the players are learning in a consistent way,” says Dan. “That’s the number one thing that we’re working on.”

He added: “I’ve found what happens is that anytime you start a new program, the first year is establishing the criteria to make it work and the second year you have a chance to go somewhere. It’s developing that work ethic and mindset that we can be a champion.”

One of the coaches benefitting from this week’s events is Jason Wandler, head coach of the SEAC Midget 15’s for the 2016-17 season.

“It’s showing us different things that often we as coaches take for granted and getting back to the basics,” says Wandler. “It’s understanding the basics of the game: skating, passing and really holding kids accountable for working hard. Getting a different perspective and seeing how things work in terms of how to break down some practices, how to break down skill progressions, those kind of things.”

Adds Bartman: “Everybody’s still their own person but we’re all trying to get on the same page and that’s going to be a huge boost for all the kids throughout the program.”

Medicine Hat Tigers Director of Player Development Darren Kruger has been on hand this week as well. As a fellow mentor to the organization, Kruger says he likes what he sees so far.

“We’ve got really good people involved here. The program is going in the right direction. Dan and Doug are really experienced in the area of helping programs to get better. We wanted and needed some outside help so we brought them in this year to give our coaches some guidance as to what we need to do to go forward and be successful. They’re an extra element to help us try and improve the SEAC program, and that’s what this week is all about.”

The camp began on Saturday morning and continues on until Wednesday. Each day has featured a pair of on-ice sessions for both coaches and players, with additional sessions for the coaches sandwiched in between. Monday and Tuesday will see a dryland component added for the players, and the camp wraps up on Wednesday with a players’ seminar on mental toughness and developing a growth mindset.

“It’s for our whole group, it’s for SEAC, for the Athletic Club in total,” says Bartman. “We’re growing as a program, it’s an ongoing process of development. These two mentors that we’ve been able to link up with did some work with Medicine Hat Minor Hockey last year and did a great job. We’re all looking to develop further; it’s an endless journey and we’re really excited about having them be a part of our group and our season coming up.”

“They haven’t had much success over the last few years so we’re looking to change that,” concluded coach Wandler. “Change is difficult but in the same sense if kids come in here with a growth mindset and want to accept the things that we’re going to teach them and go out there and utilize it, I think people will like the product that we’re going to put on the ice.”