Some of the participants line up long before the Zamboni finishes smoothing the ice at the Bruce II Sports Complex on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 6.
These intermediate skaters are waiting for their chance to step onto the ice and learn from their coaches, some of who play for the Port aux Basques Mariners. The team is currently sitting atop the West Coast Senior Hockey League with a 6-1 record.
This afternoon three Mariners players — Paul Barter, Brent Seaward and Rob Parsons — are on hand to guide the next generation of skaters.
Barter is currently the head coach of the initiation group. This is his third year coaching local minor hockey.
“I love the coaching, and love the teaching, and you know… put back into the game what fun I got out of the game,” he says, a sentiment his fellow coaches also share.
Barter’s return to coaching was prompted by his son’s coming of age and interest in the sport. This year Barter also signed on to play defense for the Mariners.
“I always played forward growing up,” he laughs. “It’s quite nice to be back, in front of the hometown crowd.”
It’s Barter’s first time back to playing contact senior hockey in 25 years. He has strong roots in hockey, having left home at 16 to play hockey in Nova Scotia and Ontario.
Barter says his new position has meant some adjustments and some learning. He watches more video and asks a lot more questions, and in that regard is similar to some of the young players he is coaching.
“Definitely a lot of the stuff is transferable,” says Barter, who tries in turn to impart skills he’s learned to his skaters. “Going through the system, you hope what other good volunteers have taught you and good coaches have taught you, that you want to teach those skills to these kids.
“Skating is such an important part at the initiation level, and that’s where all the focus goes. Much of practice that goes on is in skating. As kids learn to skate, then puck control and all that stuff becomes secondary.”
Brent Seaward coaches novice hockey and, like Barter, is in his first year playing as a defenseman for the Mariners. Before that he was a referee, but prompted by his children’s desire to see him play, he decided to sign on to the home team.
“It’s nice that the kids can kind of watch you play and then they listen to what you’re saying a bit more,” believes Seaward. “I guess you’re telling them to work hard and do these things in practice and try their best, and you know if they see you out there playing hockey and working hard then they kind of feed off of that.”
Seaward has a long tenure as a coach, and has even coached the Junior Mariners in the past. Five years ago, when his daughter joined hockey, he stepped back into a coaching role.
“It’s fun. It’s nice to see the kids get better. It’s nice to have fun with them and laugh,” says Seaward, who enjoys watching the participants progress through the minor hockey program. “There’s one little kid that stands out. When he first started he couldn’t skate, he couldn’t do anything, and you know here it is, it’s two years later. It’s his second year and he’s one of the better players in the group. The improvement you see is amazing really.”
Rob Parsons is a forward for the Mariners, and like his teammates has a solid background in coaching. Hailing originally from the Northern Peninsula, he settled in the region about eight years ago.
“I coached midgets, high school, pee wee first when I came,” recalls Parsons, who also coaches the initiation group.
He says playing for the Mariners has solidified Port aux Basques’ reputation as a hockey town.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” he said.
Parsons also coaches other sports, particularly the seniors’ boys basketball program at Belanger Memorial School where he teaches.
“I found out this year that my favourite part of coaching is with the lower age groups, just kind of grass roots stuff, because it was my first time ever coaching this age group this year,” he says.
Parsons is a huge believer in that a lot of skills can be transferred between sports, and he notes that the Bruce II Sports Complex is a hub that facilitates opportunities for young athletes who want to explore different sports.
“One program that a lot of the kids are participating in back and forth is here at the arena as well – the CanSkate program and the figure skating program, which is a great program as well,” he said. “I know some of these kids here are also involved in the swimming as well.”
Whether or not any of the children in the minor hockey program will eventually skate for the Mariners remains to be seen, but for now the Mariners players all say they are reaping the benefits that come from taking a place behind the bench.
“Seeing those kids when they smile or get a goal… it’s pure enjoyment for them. That just makes me happy as a coach and as a dad,” says Barter.
It makes the players happy too according to Krista Reid, public relations officer for Port aux Basques Minor Hockey.
“At the beginning of the year, the bantam division was in danger of folding due to low numbers and no coaching staff,” notes Reid.
Mariners players Steve Lomond and Darren Dean stepped forward as volunteer coaches.
“Steve said he wouldn't see the kids lose their hockey,” says Reid. “The kids love Steve and Darren and are very grateful for their coaching. The parents feel the same.”
Coaches, players and parents will celebrate during Minor Hockey Week, set to take place Jan. 12-19.