The Coaching Chronicles

The Revelation

Our eldest son Trevor married the love of his life on New Years Eve. Joanna is a wonderful and beautiful woman, both inside and out. We are incredibly proud of him and happy for them.

What has that got to do with coaching you might ask?

Well, it dawned on me during the reception, that a number of the guests were childhood friends of Trevor – and kids (now men) that I had coached in years gone by.

The Journey

The headline read in bold print “Kent Wolfe Scores 5, in 9-2 Dairies win.” I can still see it today. It was a Christmas Eve game and I was in peewee hockey – likely about 9 or 10 years old. At that time, the all-star team below your age group would play in the house league group above them for extra ice time. The Tillsonburg News ran a story in the Sports section the next week with that headline. I still have the article somewhere.

My dad had a pair of men’s gloves made from deer hide. They were so soft. I loved them. Somehow I convinced dad to let me use them to play hockey and they ultimately became my “lucky” gloves. I wore them that entire year, rather than regular hockey gloves. What were the adults thinking!! Sheesh. Fortunately, I made it through unscathed. No one ever accused me of being particularly bright.

My team, sponsored by the Tillsonburg Dairies, were playing the Atom All Stars. I should have had 6 in that game, having gotten too fancy on a late breakaway. My parents were not there to see my excitement. Dad wrote a letter, purportedly from Punch Imlach (coach of the Leafs at the time) and put it under the tree for me – they had me on their radar! I couldn’t wait to tell my friends!!!

I had my heart set on playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs as a kid, like so many others of my age. Hey, without dreams, what do we have to aspire to? I never had a lot of talent or size. Hard work and intensity were my calling card. Without talent, its not enough. My career aspirations in professional hockey would be short lived.

“Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” (George Bernard Shaw)

Instead, I spent decades playing the game for fun, and another 25 years coaching kids that had the same dream I did – well maybe not the Leafs – but another team that would not be guaranteed to break your heart.

I coached baseball and soccer as well, but the majority of my time was spent with hockey. As with many dads I got involved as my kids began to show interest. However, my first experience in coaching came on my return from living in Nova Scotia. We were only there for a couple of years, but never really assimilated into any group of friends and I was anxious to get involved in the community on our return.

I joined the Board of Directors of the local minor hockey association to help out. Coincidentally, the coach of the Atom All Star team had to step down at the last minute, so I threw my hat in the ring – having no idea what I was getting into – other than I had played the game.

I thought the team was well prepared heading into our first exhibition game. We lost 13-0. YIKES. Tough start.

Things got better from there as the year went on but it was a humbling start. I had no kids of my own on the team and was determined to play everyone equally. It took me a while to understand that equal and fair are not the same in competitive sports.

My coaching style evolved and our teams got better and more competitive. Soon Trevor was old enough to play and I became a staple behind the bench, followed over the years, by coaching Geoff, Lauren and Ryan’s teams. Sometimes 3 teams at a time. I have no idea how I juggled work, family and coaching at the same time. Truth be told, it took a toll on my marriage.

One year I coached Trevor in AAA, Geoff in local all-star hockey and Lauren in a competitive girls league, all while having a busy work and travel schedule of my own. Whew! That was busy. My wife was a saint.


So many memorable moments over the years – of goals, big hits, celebrations, heartbreak, tournaments and travel. Relationships were built with kids and many of their families. Watching many thrive and move on to higher levels of competition. Others, like me, learned to simply love the game and play many years for the joy of competition.

Perhaps the most remarkable team I ever helped coach, was the 1998-99 Aylmer Juvenile All-Stars. That year, there were not enough midget aged players to form a team, so a Juvenile team, composed of young men 16-19 years old was formed. Trevor was 16 at the time. The team was coached by 2 gentlemen that had not coached previously, and both neglected to get proper certification in time for the Dec 31 deadline.

As a result John Ungar and I volunteered to join the bench as certified coaches, allowing the other coaches to carry on. The team had two!! practices all year long. Remarkably they went to the Ontario finals, losing 3 games to 1, to a loaded Parry Sound squad. John and I tried to get the coach to have at least one practice before the final, but he was steadfast – “We haven’t practiced all year. I don’t want to jinx it now”. Unbelievable team of talented and determined young men.

The worst part was the roster cuts. I agonized over hurting feelings of both kids and parents. I was determined to select the players that I felt most deserving, regardless of previous standing, or parental relationships. I lost a few friends over my stubbornness, and have a few regrets over decisions I made. But that’s life.

Make the tough calls and never look back!

I was blessed to have worked with some great people on the bench. Gary Laur, Jim Laur, Larry Nelson, Paul Driver, Gord Tugwell, Dave Beynon, Russ Wiltsie, Dale Beringer – too many to mention without offending someone through omission. I learned a lot from all of them and have always had enormous respect for them as coaches and people.

Like many parents of active children, we played games and tournaments all over Ontario, and from Indianapolis to Montreal. Most holidays were dominated by commitments to team over family. So family became part of team.

I coached AAA hockey for several years, as the level of competition rose. I mistakenly thought that once you were coaching at that level, the politics would cease. Boy was I wrong! It’s what eventually drove me from the game.

One of Trevor’s groomsmen, Brent Laur approached me with a huge hug the other night and told me that he really appreciated me and that I had made a huge difference in his life. I had no idea he felt that way and we both became quite emotional in that moment. Talk about humbling!

That conversation caused me to reflect on the impact that sports in general and hockey in particular has had on my life.

Funny enough, a few years ago I searched out an old coach of mine, to tell him how much of an impact he had had on MY life. His health was failing at the time, but Dick Cowell was the best coach I ever had – tough but fair. I learned so much from him about hockey and life. He was a huge influence on me choosing to give back to the community through coaching.


Below is a much younger me as part of the 1973-74 Tillsonburg Juvenile All Stars. We went 37-6 that year. Great group of guys, as we were eliminated 3 games to 2, in the Ontario Semi Finals, on a controversial call. Kelvin Lockey had blasted one of his patented slapshots past the goalie in the dying seconds to tie the game, but the puck when in and out so quickly, the referee missed it. It was to be our final game together as a team. No wonder I had a problem with the referees!

I played with Randy Green and Cam Campbell whose brothers, Gary and Colin had NHL careers.  Many of you would know Colin from his days playing in the NHL and later his continued influence on the game through coaching and NHL executive positions. Gary went on to coach the Peterborough Petes and later the NHL Washington Capitals, in their early days as a franchise. After his coaching career he did colour commentary on NHL games for a number of years.

John Vandergrient played in Europe and later was captain, leading scorer and MVP of the Cambridge Terriers as they won the Allan Cup – quite an accomplishment. Terrific guy and heck of a hockey player. I have reconnected with John over the past several years through business. What a class act…..and still playing hockey several times a week.

I never coached anyone that made the NHL, but several went on to play in the OHL or Europe. I was asked to coach our local Sr A team once, but respectfully declined, citing a lack of experience. I had no illusions that I could coach men at that point.

But as Brent reminded me the other night, maybe the success is not so much in the actual coaching, but in the life lessons along the way and the impact you have on a young man or woman through something you say or the way you treat them as people.

Sports have been a huge part of my life.

I met my wife Karen initially through coaching her son Ryan when he was twelve. Though it was many years later that the romance blossomed.

My Ranger Bay pal’s relationships are mostly as a result of playing with, coaching with, or coaching their sons. We built a hunt camp/cottage together in 1993 and have so many wonderful memories as a result of our friendship that originated in hockey.

I have watched countless young men and women go on to have their own families, participate in sports and now are coaching or participating in some other way in their own kids lives. It is so rewarding to see people you have coached pay it forward. The cycle continues.

That’s why I got involved after all. So many before me had given selflessly of their time to coach me as a youngster.

The Reward

One of the most rewarding things I have ever encountered are words of gratitude for having made a difference.

Perhaps the most humbling and thoughtful thing a former player ever did for me happened a few years ago. Ben Gustavson, was one of the most talented players I have coached, but even a nicer kid at the time. He came from a terrific family. Ben went on to play for for the Ottawa 67s, under legendary coach Brian Kilrea.

One Saturday afternoon, they were the featured game on Global TV. Ben was named player of the game and was interviewed post game for some comments. He was asked who had influenced his game in minor hockey and he named several local coaches. I was not offended to not hear my name, as I had only coached him a short time.

However, I was shocked and flattered to get a phone call from him later that day to apologize for forgetting to mention me. What a class act and a character guy. His younger brother Sam is just as classy and a testament to their family values.

The players were not the only ones to learn life lessons.

On reflection, I have many regrets specific to my coaching style – often at odds with the referees – rather than acknowledging that they had a tough job to do. Like me they were just doing their best. I would do things differently now, with the benefit of hindsight. I owe a few guys an apology for sure. ☹ I felt I was protecting my players, but I should have been more of a partner to the referees than an adversary.

I felt my job as a coach was to be a mentor as much as a coach. I often tied life lessons to pre-game or post-game talks. “If you do your best, leave nothing to chance, you can always hold your head high – win or lose”. I always tried to leave the players with something to think about, stressing positives.

I of course learned as many lessons from those I coached, as lessons I passed along.

It is humbling after all these years to have young men or women that you have interacted with in the sporting arena, tell you that your made a small but memorable difference in their life, or simply as Trevor’s friend Josh Will told me the other evening “I love you man”.

A BIG shoutout from me to you, to all those that volunteer – including the referees – that have made a positive impact on someone in their life’s journey.

It makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.

4 responses to “The Coaching Chronicles”

  1. Great article Kent. Life lesson, give and you shall receive. You deserve all the love- you are a giver…and a keeper! XO

  2. Worst coach I ever had! He cared more about passing the puck than winning. If we made 100 passes in a game he would celebrate with sugary pop for all the children. Not every persuasive either, I don’t recall him ever winning an argument with a ref. Just horrible memories…

  3. Yet another in a series of fine articles, Doc. I do recall, with a wry smile, being in the stands for a few of your well coached games. If my (albeit ageing) memory serves – you did have a rather “tenuous” relationship with certain refs. There was a hilarious one liner delivered to one hapless ref involving a reference to his “one good eye’s” location but I will refrain from elaboration as this is a general audience forum…

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