Iginla Enjoys Helping Kids Pursue Their Hockey Dreams

RINK Academy Jerome Iginla

Sure, the players on the RINK Kelowna teams know that their head coach is a Hall of Famer and that he scored 625 goals and collected over 1300 points in 20 NHL campaigns.

Between the ages of 13 and 14, they’re too young to have witnessed any of it in person, but these kids are YouTube savvy. They know how to Google Jarome Iginla’s name.

Actually, it’s about the only way they’re going to find out about their coach’s historic accomplishments during his playing days, which include an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup appearance.

Iginla isn’t bothering to talk about it himself. He knows that these kids aren’t there to hear about his career. They’re working on building a career of their own.

It’s in that respect where Iginla’s vast experience can be of value to them.

“I really enjoy that part of it, where you’re trying to help them get to the next level, help them learn what is the next step and prepare them to try to follow their dreams,” Iginla told the Calgary Sun.

The 2022-23 season was Iginla’s first with the RINK Kelowna Academy. Instead of boasting of his own hockey accomplishments, he seeks instead to utilize those he called teammates during his NHL days, guys who are still plying their trade in the league and thus familiar to his players, as examples to follow for inspiration.

“You try to get across to them when you watch (Sidney) Crosby and (Nathan) MacKinnon and you watch (Patrice) Bergeron . . . I’ve seen all these guys up close and the guys who are successful, they worked daily on their game.

“The practices, they didn’t waste them. Even in the NHL, not everybody goes out with the same focus and the same determination to get better. Brad Marchand, I played with him when he was younger and he was good, and he’s gotten better and better every year because he works so hard at it.

“So you try to relay that to the kids. ‘At the end of the year, you’ll improve if you don’t waste your time, if you’re not out there fooling around.’ “

Academies like RINK Kelowna are proving to be pipelines to a chance at the next level, either through the junior ranks or via a college scholarship.

Two of the top three players and seven of the first 12 selected in the 2021 Western Hockey League bantam draft were from Western Canada hockey academies. Iginla’s son Tij, who was playing for the RINK Kelowna under-18 squad, was selected ninth overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds. His RINK teammate Ryder Ritchie went to the Prince Albert Raiders with the 14th overall pick and Jaxsin Vaughan was tabbed with the 21st selection by the Regina Pats.

Iginla emphasizes to his players that their chances of getting to the next level of the game will be in large part driven by how much they are willing to push themselves to improve.

“You try to get across that it’s not when the coach is watching,” Iginla explained. “You have to be self-driven if you really want to get to the next level. If I turn my head, it can’t be, ‘OK, now I can relax.’ No, it’s self-driven, and I think we have a lot of those.

“There’s a lot of hockey at these academies. It’s funny, we have two hours of ice every day and I thought, ‘Man, that’s a long time.’ I’d be cutting practice short at an hour and a half. I’d be like, ‘Ok, that’s enough. We’ve done lots today.’ And the kids are like, ‘No, we still have another half hour!’ They want it, and that’s pretty neat. I like that.

“They are really, really into it and have opportunities to do some good things in hockey and follow their dreams or paths. So it’s really cool. And it’s fun when you see them get better. It’s really neat to see them get better from the beginning of the year and to see them enjoy it. It’s very rewarding.

“Overall, it’s been great.”