George Cabot knew he had his work cut out for him when he became technical director of the Sheshatshiu minor hockey program in the fall of 2013.
The hockey coach from Happy Valley-Goose Bay had the same job in the Innu community back in 2004. But, in the nine years that had elapsed, the organized sport became a lot more disorganized.
“There was no structure, no structure,” said Cabot on his first impressions. “If there was a tournament in Goose Bay, anybody at all could show up and play in the tournament. You didn’t have to be playing hockey, you just show up and you’d play (in the tournament).”
“When I got hired on as a technical director, structure was our main goal.”
Despite the challenges, Cabot had a lot of good things going for him from the beginning. The kids that do play hockey in Sheshatshiu are dedicated and passionate about the sport. When driving around the community, it’s common to see groups of young boys carrying hockey sticks, using whatever they can find on the ground to practice shooting and passing.
“The kids got it upstairs,” said Cabot, pointing to his head. “They’re notorious; they’re good at what they do.”
“They really enjoy the skill. It’s getting to be a little higher tempo … our kids have gotten way better over the year.”
Cabot is also passionate about hockey. During this past hockey season, he coached all five divisions: novice, atom, peewee, bantam and midget.
Luckily for Cabot, the players’ reliability made his job a lot easier. The kids in all five divisions seemed to enjoy practices, a luxury not all hockey coaches enjoy.
Cabot has developed his players’ hockey passion for all it’s worth. They practice Monday to Thursday, with games on Friday and Sunday.
“The kids are perfect. I got no problem with kids for practicing. They love their practices, but they love the game at the end of the day also,” said Cabot.
“Kids do respect me when I’m on the ice coaching, and their peers.”
Brett Andrew, a midget hockey player in Sheshatshiu, complimented Cabot on how has put together the team.
“He’s a good coach. He taught us how to support our teammates on the ice,” said Andrew.
Cabot became impressed with how quickly the kids caught on to the skills he taught them and the chemistry that developed between teammates. But there were still ongoing challenges for the program throughout the year.
The coach is hoping that, next season, more parents will get involved. Far too often, said Cabot, the kids were responsible for coming to the rink on time and looking after their gear.
“Our biggest problem this year is no parents being involved, nobody watching hockey. There was about four parents all year that was watching hockey and watching their children play,” said Cabot.
“Nobody takes kids to the hockey rink; kids got to come on their own. Kids got to leave their hockey gear in the arena. The next day they’ll show up and they’ll play hockey, knowing that their gear is going to be there.”
Hard work pays off
In April, Cabot was able to take a midget team and a peewee team out to the provincial hockey championships in Newfoundland.
Since Cabot couldn’t coach two teams at once, he took care of the peewees, while three men from Sheshatshiu took over the midget team.
Although the Sheshatshiu midget team was hoping to medal, they came up short and finished in fourth place. The peewee team, however, struck gold and came home as division J champions.
The only real nail-biter came in their second round robin match, where they squeaked by Marystown (6-4).
“Every game from there on was a breeze,” said Cabot with a smile.
Sheshatshiu would meet Marystown again in the finals, where Sheshatshiu prevailed 7-4. The postgame celebration was a sight for Cabot to behold.
“For all the time that I put into it, and hard work, I just loved it,” said Cabot.
“At least it all paid off, with the smiles and the kids’ high-fives and excitement.”
The tournament was also a showcase for some of Sheshatshiu’s star talent. Goaltender Kenneth Nui backstopped the team, despite being young enough to play in atom. Then there was Shipu Andrew who, according to Cabot, tallied 29 points in just five games.
“And I didn’t even play him in the second last game. I wanted him to rest because, at the end of it, players were going at him and knocking him down,” said Cabot.
As one last testament to Sheshatshiu’s young hockey talent, Evan Rich and Darryl Gregoire represented Team Labrador at an Atlantic invitational tournament earlier this month in Halifax. George Cabot was also one of the coaches selected to attend.
The team, consisting of atom hockey players from right across the Big Land, proved that they belonged in the competition. They even forced a team from New Brunswick to a 4-4 tie. Labrador would have won the game, but New Brunswick tied with just seconds remaining.
Cabot’s next goal is to expand the program. When he was involved in Sheshatshiu’s hockey program in 2004, there were 130 kids playing; now it’s only 60. But Cabot is confident that the hockey program will grow, as long as the program stays organized.
“It will grow if they have a continuous program, with structure,” he said.