Nunavik’s new generation of hockey coaches moving up
“It’s kind of like how elders pass their knowledge down"
KUUJJUAQ – Goaltender Brandon LaPage has a little trick he uses to calm his nerves on the ice.
When LaPage is feeling nervous, he looks down at the ice. And when he’s been scored on, he looks up.
Now, the 18-year-old from Kuujjuaq has been able to pass that trick down to the younger goalies he works with, some as young as nine and ten years old.
For the last two years, LaPage has worked as a youth trainer with the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development Program (NYHDP.) He is one of the program’s roughly dozen young trainers across the region, who act as a bridge between the its young players and more seasoned coaching staff.
LaPage, who’s in his last year at Jaanimmarik school, says being only a few years older than the players you coach helps to really understand where they’re coming from.
“You get like a goalie bond with them,” Lapage says of the young players he works with. “It’s like having a little brother or sister.”
LaPage only started playing hockey when he 12 years old; he first tried his hand at defence first before making the switch to goaltending.
He played two years with the NYHDP – “I miss it,” he says – before he began working with Kuujjuaq’s Atom and Peewee level goaltenders.
“At first, I just taught them what I know,” he said. “There are only two nets on a rink, so you always have to keep them busy.”
LaPage says his job as youth trainer has taught him to be more patient – something that he in turn tries to impress on younger goalies, as well as encouraging them to stay focused.
“I usually tell them ‘Always focus on the game; focus on the puck,’” he said. “Don’t worry about the score.”
And coaching efforts seemed to have paid off; the Nunavik Nordiks Midget and Atom teams both won provincial tournaments this winter for the first time.
LaPage travelled with the Nordiks Atoms to a tournament in St.Raymond, Quebec last month, along with fellow youth trainers Sasha Kokiapik (Inukjuak) and Julia St-Aubin (Kangiqsualujjuaq.)
Kokiapik trains forwards, while St-Aubin trains defense, although the three found themselves doing anything from carrying gear to filling water bottles and offering moral support.
LaPage will never forgot the sweat and tears that went into the Atoms Feb. 2 tournament victory, when the Nordiks came from behind in the last few minutes of the final game.
“The moment where we scored with 0.6 seconds left, (the Nordiks) started crying,” he remembers. “I asked them ‘Why are you crying? You won.’”
“And they said ‘Because we’re happy!’” LaPage said. “I’ll never forgot it.”
Two years in, LaPage says he hopes he’ll be able to help coach young Nunavimmiut players for many years to come.
“I feel like one day, we’ll be taking over Joé’s job,” said LaPage, referring to the NYHDP’s founder, coach and former NHLer Joé Juneau. “It’s kind of like how elders pass their knowledge down to new generations.”
“I think these young kids will be coaching one day, too.”