Growing the game
When Wade Parker's work is done, 20 years from now, the arenas of Summerland, B.C., will be bursting. Not just with kids -- but with middle-aged Canadians who live for the game.
"I want to develop as many 35-year-old rec league players as I can," the 39-year-old coach said. "I want kids to love it just as much as I did when I was growing up."
He's starting with 12-year-olds.
Parker coaches his daughter Ali's mixed peewee house league team in Summerland. The Canada Revenue Agency worker devotes his time to two practices (one morning, one evening) and two games a week, plus an hour prep time for each.
Parker grew up between the posts in the same minor hockey system and was also coached by his dad, Warren, "from atom to midget."
"I remember really enjoying spending time with him. I don't remember a lot of games, but I do remember the times in the dressing room with my teammates, and coming home and talking with [my dad] about the game ... He was really good moral support," he said.
Parker has been the same source of support for other young players for the past seven years. He took on the task, he said, because he wanted to give something back.
"Somebody did it for me, and I thought it was my time to help others out, too," he said.
Parker said coaching a co-ed team hasn't presented many unusual challenges.
"When I was growing up, girls may have been singled out, but now boys accept girls as teammates," he said.
The former goalie for the Camrose Lutheran College Vikings said the key to coaching is not to take the task too seriously.
"I think the main thing is to remember the game is for fun -- most guys aren't going to make the NHL. It's like winning the lottery to get there, so you have to set reasonable goals for the kids, and the bottom line is to keep it fun," he said.
Parker has also been involved in the B.C. Best Ever High Performance program, which pits the top under-16 players from each region of the province against each other.
As manager of the Zone 2 Team Okanagan, Parker helped make team cuts.
"It can be really tough. We battle hard for our last picks," he said, noting that more than 100 elite players typically vie for 15 spots.
Despite experience in more competitive ranks, Parker says what's most satisfying about coaching is simply working with young players.
"I try and talk to them, try and be open. I'm there for them," he said. "I get a lot out of working with kids.
"I walk around town and kids will come up to me and say, 'Hey coach.' I don't even recognize them anymore, but they'll come talk to me. I get a kick out of it," he said.