Captains in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League provide leadership in their own way. There are different things to shoulder off the ice for a leadership group. What is it like being a leader in a pandemic impacted season? That’s what has been asked of this group. They share what they have been doing to help get their teammates through an unusual time, especially when league play has been forced to pause until at least the first week of 2021.
Revelstoke Grizzlies captain Raymond Speerbrecker has been focused on following the safety protocols and setting a good example for his teammates despite COVID-19 challenges.
“You’re doing it so that a younger guy in the room can look at you and say, a third year guy can do it, that means I can do it,” says Speerbrecker. “If you’re not doing it yourself, it’s hard for you to hold other people accountable.”
Overall, Speerbrecker feels the group has done a pretty good job.
Castlegar Rebels captain Josh Wiens says one of the big reasons it’s different is because he isn’t able to see his teammates as much or be in the room. Wiens, 20, has been working to know his teammates.
“It just takes a little longer to get to know some of the guys, get comfortable around them,” he says, adding to the challenge that 19-20-year-olds are not allowed on the ice after a provincial government ruling.
After the ruling took them by surprise, Wiens says the older guys found a lake to skate on.
“There are a lot of changes this year that we are not used to,” says Wiens, who is trying to find things for guys to do, which may include meeting at Tim Hortons.
Chase Heat assistant captain Jacob Biensch says as a rookie last season, he looked up to Cam Watson.
“I have been doing pretty good. It’s challenging at times to only have four or five vets. It’s a lot to handle with 20 rookies,” he says. “I think our rookies are really good this year. I think our veteran group is doing a really good job.”
His role includes holding teammates accountable and it’s harder because they are friends. He tries to show strong leadership by being at practice early – being the first on the ice and the last off.
It has been a little more stressful for Columbia Valley Rockies captain Greg Parker.
“I’m trying to keep the guys in line and making sure they are following the protocol when it comes to sanitizing and staying home and not going out in the community. We have a good group of guys so it hasn’t been too much of a hassle.”
Parker, 20, works to lead by example and they do the health checks every day. He makes sure teammates are always wearing a mask in the rink and keeping a positive attitude.
“I know guys can get pretty bummed out with our season getting postponed,” he adds. “It’s important to keep a positive attitude so that the group can build off of that.”
Creston Valley Thunder Cats captain Josh Dalquist says it’s a little bit more pressure because you have to make sure you lead by example and help your teammates follow the rules and stay disciplined.
Being off the ice creates a challenge because he says “there is a certain camaraderie you develop on the ice with your teammates.” His role involves guiding the younger players.
He reaches out to teammates, talks to them after practice and gives pointers. He leans on his leadership group and they discuss things they can work on.
Sawan Gill of the Fernie Ghostriders says it has definitely been a harder year, but the guys in the dressing room make it easy. Everyone is keeping a positive attitude.
“A lot of stuff has changed. I’m learning as everyone else is,” the captain says. “I’m just trying to comfort guys. It’s hard away from home. It’s just the little things off the ice that will help the boys. Just stay motivated and dedicated and show up to the rink every day with a smile.
“If we’re (19- and 20-year-olds) not out there, it feels like the whole team isn’t out there,” continued Gill, who is focused on providing positive company to teammates and checking on them.
Golden Rockets captain Bryce Trimmer says it’s tough with the uncertainty of when league play will resume.
“It’s just trying to keep the guys focused on playing is really the biggest thing,” he says. “I think us as a leadership group have done pretty well doing that.
“The biggest thing is supporting the guys that can practice and trying to keep yourself in shape for when we can practice,” continued Trimmer. “Not falling behind. We just got to stay positive.”
Rilee Poffenroth was able to build off taking over the captaincy of the Grand Forks Border Bruins in the last half of the season.
“Last year was pretty simple, keeping the guys on task and mindsets right,” he says. “This year doing that, plus making sure that everyone is staying safe and being good leaders in the community. It’s been tough getting team bonding as well.”
The 20-year-old is doing his best to set a good example, but has the support of the other leaders. They brainstorm team bonding ideas without breaking the rules.
“We’ve had a couple of video game tournaments,” he says. “Things to have fun with each other.”
Chris Thon considers his responsibilities with the Kamloops Storm to be “a pretty big deal.”
“You’re relied on heavily to make sure the guys are ready to go to the rink every single day,” says the Quesnel native. “It’s tough. No one has ever gone through it before. We go to the rink and are excited to play hockey.”
Thon stays in touch with teammates and organizes small-group get togethers. With the current restrictions, it’s Facetime calls. The soon-to-be 21-year-old would love to be on the ice with his teammates, but realizes they have to keep everyone safe and healthy.
“You just want to make sure you are there for your team,” he says.
In Kelowna, Chiefs captain Marshall Porteous has been proactive in supporting teammates and keeping the group positive.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs,” he explains. “But I’m a huge advocate for mental health and it’s been pretty big for me to check in on guys. You want to be sure other guys are remaining vigilant and try to keep their hopes up to a potential restart to the season.
“We also want to make sure that we’re being responsible and creating a great example of what Dr. Bonnie Henry has asked of us,” he added.
Kimberley Dynamiters captain Keegan McDowell says “it’s kind of crazy because you have to keep the kids in line, even when we’re not playing games.”
“You have got to make sure you get their mind off of it because obviously we all don’t want to be talking about it (coronavirus) 24/7,” he says. “We try to keep it the same everyday. Go to the rink and work and have some fun while we’re at it.”
McDowell, 20, tries to keep his teammates as busy as possible and wants his group to have fun.
“It’s kind of a new thing everyday, but I have the responsibility of making sure the team is always in line,” says Nelson Leafs captain Brandon Costa. “It’s a hard thing, but it is pretty simple because we have the government for their guidelines. The team just has to follow. The hard part is adjusting to monthly changes.”
Costa has communicated well with teammates, adding they have a strong leadership group that works with the coaches.
North Okanagan Knights assistant captain Bryan Brew says in some ways it’s easier because they are not around the team as much.
“It’s just trying to keep everyone going, which is a bit difficult sometimes,” he says. “We’ve got guys who haven’t played a game in so long. They are away from home and we have had guys head home for Christmas early. It’s tough to keep guys going.”
Brew talks to teammates to find out how they are doing. A strong leadership group that tries to do things together. He says it was tough for them to watch practice from the stands.
“It’s definitely unusual,” says Osoyoos Coyotes captain Andrew Smiley. “I try and do what I normally do and keep the fellas focused. In practice, it’s just trying to keep our habits good and making sure everyone is working hard on and off the ice. A lot of it is out of our control, so we do what we can.”
Not being on the ice has made it challenging, but he tries to keep spirits up. Smiley leads by example, encouraging good habits away from the rink and in the gym. He talks to teammates to make sure everyone is good.
It’s a big change for Princeton Posse captain Trevor Gulenchyn.
“Coming into the captain role, it’s just making sure that everyone is wearing their mask,” he says. “It’s making sure everyone is staying accountable.”
He’s a lead by example type and provides leadership by being “somebody that everyone can count on.”
“It’s just been such a change with not being able to hang out with the guys in the lounge or not looking up in the stands and seeing fans. It’s just been weird.”
Sicamous Eagles captain Trevor Ebeling sees that teammates have more to do, including the simple thing of wearing a mask.
It’s been very important for Ebeling and the veterans to pass their knowledge to their younger teammates. Information about lifestyle, nutrition and what it takes to compete in the league.
“Every single night you go into a game, it’s going to be a battle,” he says. “Getting out and doing the community volunteering. We had a toy drive the first week of December. It’s good to give back.”
Team bonding has become difficult for the Summerland Steam, says captain Ethan Grover. Spending time outside the rink is a challenge.
“The leadership group makes sure guys go hard in practice,” says Grover, adding it has been harder since he can’t be on the ice.
He tries to push his younger teammates and is a voice in group chats. “I call players to see how they are doing, talking to them after practice. I talk to the coach for feedback.”