EDITOR’S NOTE: Banners on the Wall is a series consisting of interviews with former Idaho Steelheads skaters Scott Burt, Marty Flichel, Jeremy Mylymok, and Cal Ingraham – the only players to have their numbers retired by the Steelheads organization. The interviews will be published in reverse chronological order from when each player had his jersey retired.
Former defenseman Jeremy Mylymok had his number 4 retired by Idaho on December 6, 2008. He played 11 seasons of professional hockey in the WCHL, ECHL, IHL, and AHL from 1995 to 2006. His six seasons with Idaho (2000-06) helped firmly establish pro hockey in the Treasure Valley, bridging the gap between the team’s WCHL and ECHL years while captaining the team to their first Kelly Cup Championship in 2003-04. He played a total of 330 games for the Steelheads, notching 46 goals and 127 assists for 173 points.
The Sin Bin: You are currently the Director of Hockey at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) south of Regina. Tell us a little bit about the school itself and what it’s like there.
Jeremy Mylymok: It’s a prep school. It’s been around for 98 years, so almost at the century mark. I was fortunate to go here for my high school years. It’s a Catholic-based, co-ed boarding school. It’s also a great educational institution that happens to produce a lot of top hockey players. And not just in the NHL, but on the female circuit for the Olympics, college players, and juniors. We have 11 teams here and everything from a skill center, synthetic ice, strength coach, great weight room, performance coach, goalie coach…you name it. I like to refer to it as “hockey heaven”. If a kid wants to be a player and they go through the rigors here, listen to us, and follow the path of their peers in front of them, they can become elite players.
TSB: Many NHL-caliber players and coaches were molded at Athol Murray. Some notable names include Rod Brind’Amour, Russ Courtnall, Wendel Clark, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Rene Bourque, and Barry Trotz. What do you think cultivates this continued culture of success at Athol Murray?
JM: I think it starts with our staff. They do a tremendous job with our kids and students athletes. There’s a lot of caring here. A lot of these kids are moving away from home for the first time, and they’re settling into our small community here by depending on their peers and teachers. It’s commonplace for the students to actually like their teachers. Unlike some schools, the teachers here are also coaches. There’s definitely that bond between our students and our staff. They’re not just your teachers in class…there is a human side to us all, and the students get to see that side of the staff because they’re around us so much.
You also look at our founder…(Father Murray) was a big proponent of athletics: developing people’s minds, bodies, and beings. I always say hockey is not just a sport that we play, but also something that helps us with life. You think about the things you learn through hockey: accountability, leadership, work ethic, and being a good teammate. All these things that you have to have to be successful as an athlete, also mirror what you have to have to be successful as a person in the real world. Those things help, but you can’t really put a finger on it…our community, staff, and facilities.
At one point, we were THE place to be in Canada. A lot of the high-profile players started to come here because they couldn’t get what we offered at their homes. After that, our reputation has been really strong. Nowadays, players really want to get to that next level. Unfortunately, sometimes, players can’t get those things at home — the rink, the weight room, the skills coach…and we have it. Parents are highly motivated to get their kids to a place where they can have success and make the most of it, and we happen to be one of those places.
TSB: You were internally promoted to Director of Hockey at Athol Murray two years ago in August of 2016. How does it differ from your previous position as Hockey Coordinator?
JM: Well, as hockey coordinator, I was in charge of recruiting for Bantams. Every year, we bring in 40 or 41 new Bantams into our program, so that was my job: to recruit them, scout them, get them to commit to Notre Dame & our system, develop them on the ice and off the ice, and get them ready for Midget hockey. We have a female program here as well — Midget AAA and AA levels — and we have six Midget teams plus a Junior A team. I helped recruit for all the teams, but my main responsibility was for the Bantams. Then, a couple years ago, I took over the whole program; I’ve got 11 teams under me now. It’s a busy, fast-paced environment, but I get to come to the rink for work everyday, so it’s great.
TSB: For those who aren’t familiar with the minor hockey system in Canada, can you break down the different levels of hockey you just made reference to?
JM: Bantams are basically Grade 9, so next year, you’re looking at kids that were born in 2004 coming in here. Your Midget program is going to be your Grades 10, 11, and 12 students — your 2001’s, 2002’s, and 2003’s. Our Junior-A program is 20 years old and could be as young as 16 years old. We have every angle covered as far as hockey and age groups at the high school level.
It’s a program we take a lot of pride in; we’ve got kids from all over the world here. In fact, schools come and study us and say, “How do you guys do it?” Some prep schools from major cities in the U.S. and Canada can’t get the kids we get. We get kids from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, China, England — you name it, we get those student athletes here. Hockey is universal, which bodes well for us, because the more the game grows, the more players are looking for a place like Notre Dame. Our reputation is strong…not just in Canada, but across the world. It’s a global program, and we really take pride in that.
TSB: Speaking of success, Notre Dame’s Midget AAA squad won the Telus Cup (Canada’s Midget-level Championship) this past April.
JM: Correct! Yeah, we had a heck of a team and a heck of a run. We had a really strong group of kids come back this year. Last season, we had a shocking first-round loss where our kids were reeling a little bit, and our core group came back with some unfinished business. We had a real strong group of ‘01 players. That, mixed in with the returning, older 2000’s…sprinkle in some young ‘02’s in there…we just had one of those years. Things came together recruiting-wise, and we also had players that wanted to come back. It was a lot of fun to watch. My youngest son was on that team, so it was a little extra special for me…not only helping put that team together recruiting-wise, but also being able to enjoy the success watching the kid out there. We had a lot of fun along the way.
TSB: You just mentioned your youngest son…you’ve got two boys, Connor and Luke, that have played through the Notre Dame hockey system. What’s on the horizon for your boys hockey-wise?
JM: Well, my oldest (Connor) just graduated from here last year. He’ll be going to Austin, Minnesota to play junior hockey in the North American Hockey League. We were just there a couple weeks ago; he’s all set to play there next season. His goal is to get a scholarship to play Division I hockey in the United States. He’s on his way there. He is a hard-working kid, and has come a long way in his four years here. You talk about the drive off the ice to get where you want to as an athlete…I always tell this kid, “You can’t be elite on the ice unless you’re elite off the ice in your training.” He took that to heart back in Grade 9, and he’s closed a lot of ground on a lot of players. He’s on his way; it was exciting to watch him develop here.
Luke committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth last October. They got to watch him play his first year in Bantam hockey, liked him, and tracked him for six or seven months before he committed. It’s pretty exciting for him to go to a program that’s on the rise — they lost in the Final Four two years ago, and then won the National Championship this past year. Exciting times for him; he’ll be in Green Bay playing in the USHL next year.
For me, it validates our program…that what we do works because I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve got two kids that grew up playing hockey in Idaho and Florida, and then came to Notre Dame. They are well on their way to chasing their dreams and turning it into reality.
TSB: Not many people in Idaho may know this, but you have a twin brother, Clint. Your brother seems to be geared more towards coaching, while you seem to be drawn more to hockey operations. When you two worked together at Athol Murray, what was the balance between family and coworkers?
JM: It was easy. Last year, he coached our Junior team when I was the Director of Hockey. Getting here, we were kind of on the same playing field, and then I took the program over. It’s not like I have to say too much to him…he’s a very experienced coach. He’s been coach of the year at various levels of junior hockey; he’s a hard-working guy.
It was nice for us to have family here, and it was great for my sons to have their uncle on campus and around to watch their games. He can talk to them about how they’re playing, because obviously as a dad, what do I know, right? He could go talk to Connor, talk to Luke, and critique them a little bit. That was a big part of why it was easiest to make that transition with the kids when they were younger…to come here because they had family here. I think it was easy for Clint to come back and coach the junior team knowing I was here with my wife Darlene and the two kids, where he has the comfort knowing there is family here.
He just got the job in Maryland with the North American Hockey League; he took over a new expansion team there, so we’re excited for him. It’s always nice to have family around. It’s not too often in this hockey lifestyle where you get to be around family, so we took what we could get, and those four years were awesome.
TSB: Your playing career took you all over North America — from the only two seasons with the Quebec Rafales and a very, very brief stint in Saint John, New Brunswick, to playing in non-traditional hockey markets like Pensacola, Florida and Jackson, Mississippi. Between Canada and the Southern United States, which market really stuck out to you and why?
JM: You know, I was very fortunate. You hear stories of some guys playing in bad organizations or tough towns to live in. Everywhere I played, I was lucky. I had great teammates. I started out in Toledo, Ohio where I had a fantastic group of guys we played with, and I had a lot of fun breaking into the ECHL. Then I got traded to Pensacola, which was the best thing for me at that stage. I went to a team that needed some defensemen, and I got to play a ton. It kind of parlayed into my IHL career; the team I was affiliated with in Pensacola was Quebec. And then from there, I went to Chicago.
Jackson, Mississippi is obviously a mark you don’t hear much about for hockey, but I had a really good friend in Glen Thornborough, who’s with the Bruins now…he actually gave me a phone call and got me to go there. We had a good talk. I went down there, and that’s where my oldest son Connor ended up being born. I actually had some family there on my wife’s side, so it’s wasn’t like we went there not knowing anybody. We had some relatives in that area in Memphis. Great people…awesome experience in Mississippi, real fun golf courses there.
Pensacola was great; I went there from Toledo. I got traded and flew in there at night, and I woke up and was on the beach…our houses were on the islands. It was a pretty cool experience there. We had to take two bridges over the harbor and onto the islands where we lived. I got there and it was kind of a ragtag team of kids and players that were kind of struggling. Then, we got some real good pieces coming in through trades and guys getting sent down, and all of the sudden we made a run to the semifinals. I had a blast there. Playoff hockey…you get to the rink in sandals, and you’re walking on the beach after your pre-game meal. It was pretty fun; we had a good time there.
TSB: How do you feel about your time spent in Boise?
JM: I spent a lot of time in Boise; it’s where my kids grew up, and it’s a special place in our hearts…obviously, with Luke being born there. And then for them having a chance to grow up there…we made some really good friends. That’s kind of where I got on track for my “second life” after hockey. It was a great experience there, as well.
I think overall, hockey’s such a great sport, and some people leave the game sour if they got cut or traded or asked to retire or told they weren’t wanted back…it kind of leaves them with that bitter feeling. I never had that, so I was fortunate that way, but I was also fortunate to play for some real good coaches, people, and teammates.
The thing about Boise is the people. I stay in contact with so many friends back there still to this day. Last year for the Steelheads’ 20th Anniversary game, I got there the day of the game. I couldn’t get in until game time, but I stayed for three days after just hanging out, fishing with some buddies, and running into some old friends. It was just great. It will always feel like home to our family, and winning a championship there — the first pro championship in Boise’s history — was pretty cool to be a part of. Boise is probably not the most unique place, like Mississippi or Pensacola which are a different culture, but for me, Idaho’s right up my alley. I love the outdoors and love to fly fish…love to get out there and explore. My kids do, as well.
TSB: What brought you to Boise in the first place?
JM: I was in Jackson, and I knew I didn’t want to stay. A year there was fine. As a player, my AHL/IHL career…that window had pretty much passed for me. I remember talking to my dad, and he said: “You know, find a great place where you can get settled down into, get out in the community, do some work, meet some good people, and get prepared for after hockey.”
I grew up in Newport Beach, California, so I love to surf, love to golf…I was the California kid growing up. I originally thought San Diego, so I was talking to (then-San Diego Gulls Head Coach) Steve Martinson there. (Then-Idaho Head Coach) John Olver had my number from back when he met me in college and remembered me from when he was coaching in Fresno. He called me up and said, “Hey, I know you’re thinking of San Diego or Colorado Springs, but come check out Idaho.” Colorado was in the WCHL at the time, as well…I was looking there because Allen Pederson, my old coach with Pensacola, was coaching there.
So, I flew out to Boise. I remember flying into the city, you come into the flat part of Idaho…I was thinking to myself, “There’s no way I’m coming here.” But, as we landed and John picked me up, he took me into downtown, and I saw the Boise River running through the city. I saw a vibrant downtown that was so clean; when I played there, we called it Pleasantville because the people were so nice. And then, he took me out to the Lucky Peak area, which reminds me of the Okanogan (Washington State) where my grandparents used to live.
So, all these things start happening, and I’m looking at the price of real estate. I think my first house was like $110,000; that would have got me a one-bedroom condo in inland California at that time. The house was in southeast Boise in Columbia Village…nice area. I flew back to Jackson and told my wife, “We’re going to Boise,” and she was like, “What?! I thought we were going to San Diego!” She went to San Diego State, so she liked the beaches and the warm weather. I flew her out and said, “You know what? Just trust me on this…go check it out.”
Olver met her at the airport, picked her up, and she stayed there for a weekend. She met his family and his kids, he took her around, met with a real estate agent, found some areas, and she came back saying, “We’re going there, no doubt.” Hats off to John…he is probably the best recruiter I’ve ever been around at any level. That guy worked the phones like no one else and had contacts everywhere. He lived on his phone…he still does. I just ran into him in Minnesota, actually, at my son’s camp…he’s still the same way. He was the main reason — probably the only reason — I ended up in Idaho. Once I was there, it just felt right. You know, you get that feeling where the community and town feels like the right place and the right fit. For twelve years, it was an unbelievable place, and we have a lot of great memories of that state, for sure.
TSB: I know John Olver, with his coaching experience in Tacoma, persuaded Marty Flichel to come over to Idaho, as well.
JM: The difference with what made things easier for John is that back then, it was a little different. The salary cap was a little higher. He got his core group of guys in those West Coast Hockey League days, and he stuck with them. He had a core six or seven guys, and he would basically bring players in and say, “Jeremy, go pick up this kid from the airport. He’s going to be here, we really want him, here’s his background…get it done.” So, we’d meet for a round of golf, John would meet us at Falcon Crest or Boise Ranch, and we’d go hit some balls and play a round. Then, we’d go downtown, get the player to stay at The Grove Hotel (connected to CenturyLink Arena), take him out for a bite to eat, then go downtown afterward to let him see the city. To be honest with you, I can’t remember a player ever saying, “I’m not coming here.” I had friends, teammates, acquaintances coming here…it was like wildfire. It was a destination.
I’ll tell you a quick story. Scott Gomez played in the ECHL for the Alaska Aces during the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. I knew him from my Alaska days; I went to college there and used to skate with him during the summer. I saw him during the first days when the Aces came in to practice. After practice, I went down to the benches and we’re talking. He said, “You know, we were in Vegas over Thanksgiving break, and I got VIP and bottle service at the bar and was taking care of the boys. I’m thinking it’s going to be a great time in Vegas, and all the players kept saying, ‘Man, wait until we get to Boise, Scotty. This is nothing.’” He’s thinking, “We’re in Vegas! What do you mean?” They spent Thanksgiving break there, and after that they played three games in four nights in Boise. After the four days, Scotty is like, “Now I get it. Boise’s a cool town; this is awesome.”
TSB: Scott Burt mentioned that you were one of the guys on the 2004 Kelly Cup Championship squad that “knew how to win”. With your two IHL Turner Cup Championships with the Chicago Wolves in 1998 and 2000, how did you “knowing how to win” help Idaho win a title?
JM: I think winning is something you can’t explain until you’ve gone through it. One thing I learned was not to panic after a loss, a tough defeat, or an overtime loss. As long as you had one more game to play, you were still in it. I think that’s something that, as younger players, if you get down in a series — a five-game series you’re down 1-0, maybe 2-0 even — you start to panic and think everything’s just not meant to be. I learned that momentum is a funny thing in the playoffs. If you play the right way consistently, there are still times that you outplay a team and you’re not going to win. Maybe the goalie gets hot, your guys are off that night, or it could be a bad bounce. But, I think there are so many variables that go into winning a playoff series that until you’ve gone through it — every last hour — and raise the cup, you finally think, “Oh, sheesh…that’s what it takes. Now I get it.”
That, in Boise, was tough for us. We’d lost to San Diego and Fresno in the finals in the West Coast League days, and we had some really good teams. There was major disappointment. And probably the one team where we weren’t expected to win, we won it all. We had goaltending, grit, toughness, timely scoring, and a great group of young kids. I still remember, being affiliated with the Dallas Stars, we had some really young players on the team. Boise’s a good town and our guys had fun, and sometimes our older guys felt that maybe the young guys were enjoying it too much. We were kind of the old guys on the team, kind of the glue guys helping us win. I remember having a meeting saying, “Hey, these young guys are going to help us win the Kelly Cup. They’re having their fun; we’ll make sure we monitor and keep them in line. But at the end of the day, if they are showing up and we’re winning games, we’re going to leave them alone. Let them have their fun…you’re in the East Coast League, and you’ve got to enjoy your time here. At the same time, when it’s time to get to work, you get to work.”
And they did. The young guys came through for us. Having Dan Ellis didn’t hurt us too much; he came back (from Dallas) and was stellar. We really had a young team that year: Zenon Konopka, Lance Galbraith, David Cornacchia, Darrell Hay, Dylan Gyori, Brett Draney, David Bararuk, Jeff Bateman…and then our veterans like Dan Vandermeer and myself and Scott Burt and Derek Paget and Ben Keup…we were the kind of guys that kept things together in the locker room and had no panic. Those were the guys who went out and performed…guys like Chris Slater.
I think, for me, I was just able to calm things down in the locker room at times and tell guys to relax when they got a little bit panicky after they might have had a bad period. I remember (Zenon) Konopka coming in and losing his mind after we lost game 4 at home to Florida (in the 2004 Kelly Cup Final). I said, “Hey Kops, don’t worry about it. We’re going to win Saturday night in Boise; we don’t lose on Saturday night here. We’re good…relax.” We refocused, and we came back and won the Kelly Cup on Saturday.
It’s a different mentality when you’ve got guys in the room that know how to win that have won before. I think we also had some disappointment in losing in those WCHL Finals…our core guys, again…like Burt, Paget, myself, Blair Allison…we were all like, “You know what? We’re getting into the Finals, and we’re not losing this thing. No way.”
TSB: You and Scott Burt both played for the Toledo Storm (Mylymok from 1995-97, Burt from 1997-99). Did that serve as an icebreaker when you two joined the Steelheads?
JM: I probably didn’t know that when Scott got here. I knew he came from Wheeling. We probably figured out that we both played in Toledo soon thereafter…we had some common connections there with some friends and fans.
With Burty, he has this aura about him where he always has a smile on his face. He’s always ready to work, he competes hard, and he’ll slash you with a smile — just trying to get the puck — with no hard feelings. He’s just that type of guy. He didn’t care who you were, your name, or what age you were; he just played the same way.
I know he came here with an injury. He gives me more credit than I deserve on John Olver keeping him. To me, it was a no-brainer, and I think John felt the same way. He would always run things by me and go, “We’ve got some tough decisions; we’ve got some really good players.” Because like I said, John’s a really good recruiter. With Burty’s speed and character, I knew he was going to be a gritty performer for us and a playoff-type player.
We ended up being neighbors in Boise, and we’re really good friends to this day. I talk to him every other week; we’re always texting, phone’s ringing. When you play with a guy five, six years together, you’re going to have some closeness. He’s got a huge heart and will do anything for you. He’s so much a part of what we did there.
TSB: Speaking of which, how did the hockey culture in Boise change when that previously mentioned “core group” formed in the early 2000’s?
JM: When we got to Boise, they’d never had THAT team. Boise was just a good place to come on the road and play. The competition was good, but they didn’t have it; they weren’t top of the league yet. When our group got there and we had a real strong team that got to the Finals, we kind of changed the culture a little bit — Boise was a good place to play to live there, but we also have a good team as well. Players knew it coming in that, if they weren’t ready to perform, that there was somebody waiting to get there and take their spot. Burty was a big part of that, because he held players accountable in the locker room. He didn’t care if it was me — if I took a dumb penalty, he’d be like, “Come on, Mylsy…we’ve got to win this game, let’s smarten up.” Whoever it was, he didn’t care…didn’t have his favorites. And I think that’s one respect we had as a team and a core group…I’d always say, “We’ll be friends off the ice no matter what, but in the locker room, it’s professional and holding each other accountable.” Sometimes, it was tough to hear that from your teammate, but when you’ve got a guy like Burty telling you something, you’re going to listen…whether you’re captain, an alternate captain, or regular player with no letter. He was always a leader, and he did whatever it took to win. That guy could have played in the American League if he wanted to, but he loved Boise and had a home there. I think he turned down a few opportunities to go to camps after he was in Boise, and said, “You know, this is home for me, and I’m going to stay here.”
TSB: Shifting to some other jobs you’ve held, you started the Mylymok Hockey Camps at the Manchester Ice Arena in McCall, Idaho back in 2000 when you first starting playing for the Steelheads.
JM: Yes, it was the year that the Manchester Ice and Events Center opened up. I went up there for the grand opening with John Olver and Cal Ingraham…we got a round of golf in and helped them open the arena. Me and the guy who helped put the rink together, Ron Sabala…I said, “Hey, if you’re looking for someone, I’d love to run the first hockey school up here. I think it’s an amazing facility, and it’s something I’d love to do every summer to give back to the community.” We had that hockey school going on for ten or twelve years. I mean, what an amazing setting for a rink! I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I’m like, “Yeah, this won’t be a bad place to run a hockey school for two weeks in the summer.”
TSB: After your retirement as a player, you went to help out with the Idaho Junior Steelheads and became the Director of Hockey at Idaho Ice World (in Boise) from 2008 to 2012.
JM: Like I mentioned, talking with my father about the next step in my career, he said, “Find a nice community to settle down in, meet some people, and make an impact.” Naturally, as a hockey player, every guy who’s played hockey says they want to stick in the game afterwards. For me, with the pro side of hockey, if I was going to get into coaching, I’d have to move around again. It’d be like being a player all over again. That really didn’t excite me at the time with young kids, so the next step was youth hockey. My kids are going to play hockey, they love the game, so why not give back in those ways, like going out to IceWorld with the learn-to-skate programs?
I think it was just a way to give back, initially, and once I started getting involved a little closer and meeting some of the right people, they asked, “Hey, can you help my kids practice? Can you go on a road trip for a spring tournament and help coach this team?” So I started getting involved there. We had the Boise Blades back in the day, and I’m thinking, “Why don’t we have the Junior Steelheads? This is crazy. We’ve got a pro team here, I’m a part of it…I’m going to go talk to (Steelheads President) Eric Trapp to try and get the Junior Steelheads program and go from there.” As a former player, I would take pride in it and do things correctly.
So we got that started, and we had a lot of success. We had a ton of teams and a lot of kids interested in playing. We worked around the house league there at Idaho IceWorld, where we kind of made things work together so it wasn’t us against them. We wanted kids playing both. The more ice time, the better they’re going to get, so we made that work. And then, once I had success with the Junior Steelheads and our program was thriving, the City of Boise saw that and said, “Hey, can you do the same thing for us (at Idaho IceWorld)?” There was a hesitation at first, but then I got involved as the Director of Hockey in Boise, and it was great.
We had a fantastic time in youth hockey, and to see kids in our program moving on — like Jordan Berger playing at Colorado College and Zach Walker at Boston College — I sent a few kids to Notre Dame, Berger being one of them. Adam Power went to play for the Spokane Chiefs. We have these kids moving on. Kyle Mitsunaga could have been a Division I player but wanted to play golf for Boise State instead. Bailey Conger…he was at Providence, but just transferred to Colorado College. We had these kids…you’re sitting there when their younger giving lessons to them, and seeing them progress, and now they’re moving on to play junior hockey in the USHL and college. You don’t really think when you get into something to say, “Oh, I had a hand in that” or “I was a part of that”. You just do it because you like doing it. When you enjoy what you do, you work hard at it, and sometimes the extra hours don’t seem like extra hours, because you’re going to a job that you enjoy doing.
One of the awards I got for community service for the Steelheads is one of my most cherished. I took pride in that community and wanted to give back. It happened to be that I had two boys that loved the game of hockey; it was a no-brainer to get involved. I was fortunate that those volunteering times led into a full-time career after hockey. I got to stay in the sport I love, and it’s taken me to a world-class program where I work with elite players daily, and get to recruit and travel the world to get the next player. It all started just because of the love of the game.
TSB: The next job you took after leaving Idaho was as the General Manager of the Florida Jr. Panthers and Director of Hockey Operations at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs, Florida. How was it going from an ECHL junior team and market to an NHL junior team and market?
JM: Florida was great. We went to the Bahamas, to Key West, to DisneyWorld…you name it, we did everything. But, at the end of the day, it was a business, too. The Panthers had a three-sheet facility; it’s where their practice rink was that they skated every day. They didn’t practice at the main arena because that’s where the concerts were. So, we had a thriving facility; I’ve never seen anything like it. You think hockey in Florida…you think an old, beat down rink where the ice is crap and there are only a couple players out there. But, this thing was pumping, and only closed from three in the morning to five in the morning. That was it. Besides that, it was open. We had figure skating, team clubs, a bar/restaurant, high school academies, our own program, adult leagues with 60 teams…it was nuts. On top of that, you had your youth hockey and your learn-to-skate programs. The pro shop was making a million dollars revenue a year. It was amazing how much hockey was there.
I knew there was some good hockey there; I did my research on it. When I was in Boise, I knew one day, looking at the level of competition there, either we’d go somewhere where the competition was stronger, or, if they wanted to do it, we’d send our kids away at a younger age to chase their dream. Knowing my older son, he’s like, “I’ve got to play at a higher level.” He was really driven, and wanted more. It so happened for us that I worked in that profession, and it was a step up for me, as well, working for an NHL team with a three-sheet facility and a big travel program, and running a lot of hockey camps and hockey schools going through there.
Having the chance to work with NHL players throughout different times of the season….just being around that environment was pretty neat for my kids. They got to skate with Roberto Luongo and shoot pucks on him when they trained in the morning. It was a different environment, for sure…one I was thankful for. It was a great time in my life, perfect timing for my kids. I don’t think a lot of people realize how resilient kids are. Everybody wants to protect them nowadays and keep them in the same bubble and make sure everything’s fine, but kids bounce back. They made friends there right away and had a blast there. We still have great friends there; we went back for spring break a couple years ago. We went down to Key West for six, seven days of just fishing and hanging out. We made the most of it, for sure.
TSB: How was the transition back to Canada after being in Florida for a couple years?
JM: When I originally came to Wilcox, Saskatchewan, I went to school here while my parents stayed in California. I was in Newport Beach…people back then thought I was crazy: “You left Newport Beach for WHAT? You went to Wilcox, Saskatchewan WHY?” One of those type things. And then, the second time back, I go from the other coast — from the east coast, with Florida on the sands and the beaches and the ocean — back to Wilcox and the prairies. People can’t believe you moved here from Florida. But when you’ve got young kids and you move to a small town, there’s just that comfort knowing your kids are going to be safe and that there’s people looking out after them. We’ve kind of got that “It takes a village to raise a kid” mentality here, and everybody knows everybody in town. There’s a lot of young kids…my kids were out playing street hockey, riding their bikes, running around chasing birds, you name it. They also got to be around a ton of high-end players, how they train, and how humble they are. They’ve learned from the best. Kids are resilient — not just mine, but kids in general — and that’s what I’ve really learned. When I recruit families, I tell them our story all the time and say, “Hey, it’s not easy.” But, it’s going to be tougher on the parents than it is on the kids, for sure.
But, we enjoy our time here. My wife loves her job and I love mine, and our kids are growing up and moving on. Next year, one’s in Minnesota and one’s in Green Bay. For now, we’re happy and content. Again, I get to go to the rink every day, and it’s really neat to work with a group of motivated athletes that want to get better, that hang on your every word, and are starving for more. It’s a neat environment that way, and it’s something that you can’t put into words necessarily, but it’s a special place, for sure.