Coaches a forgotten commodity

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

The voice that left a message on the telephone was excited about how well the London Junior Knights had fared in last weekend's Ontario Hockey League draft.

While it didn't compare to the six choices of the top 44 players taken last year, this year's five picks in the first four rounds, including first-rounder Nazem Kadri, is impressive.

When you toss in some of the top choices from the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs, there was a lot of local content selected.

But back to the voice.

He was pleased with the publicity accorded the players who were drafted. It's a testament to what appears to be a continually improving minor hockey system.

"But there's someone who's never mentioned and they do a lot of the work and deserve a lot of the credit," the voice said. "The coach. No one remembers the coach. No one knows what he goes through."

Thanks for the reminder.

In the case of the London Junior Knights minor midgets, it's John Caldarozzi. He's been with the organization for four years. He's also been a coach with two Ontario Hockey Association junior B teams and one junior D.

It used to be a minor hockey hockey coach was the volunteer who could skate and knew something about the game. That couldn't get you near a team now.

Coaches at the rep levels are trained, moving to higher levels as they develop their skills. As coaches get older, there's an increased expectation they'll prepare their more skilled players for graduation to higher levels.

These players are targeted and followed from the early stages of their careers.

Joe O'Neill is president of the London Junior Knights. He's come to understand that as players get older and are drafted, the organization will always be measured against that 2005 OHL draft.

He predicts the Junior Knights born in 1996 will be the next great group. Those kids are 10 years old and while they aren't yet under a microscope, they are already under a magnifying glass.

And the guy who has to teach kids how to have fun and ask parents to keep everything in perspective -- is the coach.

"What we say to the parents, is kids should play hockey at 15 as they do at five," Caldarozzi said.

"They should play to enjoy themselves, to learn and to go home with a smile on their face, Caldarozzi continued. "But what happens between five and 15 is different pressures enter into the game and everything becomes skewed."

And so the challenge is even greater for a minor hockey coach. Not only must he know how to coach and do what he can to make the experience enjoyable for himself and his charges, he must also deal with the expectations of those players, parents and the association as well.

"Everybody's a lot more educated. People spend a lot more money than they used to, spend a lot more time at the rink than they used to. Everyone's a lot more amped up," Caldarozzi said.

"Thanks to the Internet, most kids can get every minor midget hockey game result (in the province) as quickly as it takes for one of us to drive home from the rink. Of course, we just don't get the result, we also get an analysis that leads to some sort of dialogue. This environment creates a never-ending level of hysteria to those that wish to subject themselves to it."

There was a time when elite players would play junior B. Now most remain in minor hockey, allowing parents, scouts and players to compare themselves to others going into the draft.

All this makes the work of a coach complicated, delicate and a lot more time- consuming.

"You can get eaten up in this environment," Caldarozzi said. "This ain't the old days when you were just thankful someone's coaching. Now it's who's coaching, what have they done and what are they going to do?"

How things have changed. And the guy who usually has to hold things together is the guy most often forgotten . . . the coach.


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