Being recognized as the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) coach of the month for February caught Mike Ellis off guard.
“I was definitely surprised,” said Ellis, who coaches a Woolwich Minor Hockey Association U9 team, adding the honour rightly belongs to the entire team.
“I don’t really do anything special. There are a number of people that help out with the team – it’s not just a one-man show. All the volunteers for our team, all the coaches and managers for the entire organization really need to be called as well, as all kinds of people are volunteering their time, spending a lot of time.”
Though having been involved with minor hockey for years, Ellis found himself in uncharted territory over the last year because of the pandemic, which has thrown a wrench in the gears of everyone’s life. It’s meant making some changes while wearing his coaching hat.
“It’s been a challenging year. What myself and the other coaches have been talking about a lot as we go through these different stages is just the focus on having fun – we were coaching the local league team. So, for us, it’s more about keeping kids engaged in the game.”
One of those kids is Ellis’ son Ben, who’s had to make some adjustments of his own, as have all his teammates.
“You’ll get children who really missed the game, but with the long breaks that we’ve had, some of them may not remember much about hockey anymore or not be terribly interested to come back. That’s why we’re promoting trying to have fun out at the rink. I think the kids are kind of in a mixed camp – there are some … getting as much hockey as they can, and others might be kind of wandering away from hockey a bit, especially in a local league group.”
In developing his coaching style, Ellis drew on his own time while growing up in Drayton, where he played minor hockey from U7 to U18. A couple of the coaches he played for stick in his mind, and he uses the lessons he learned from them to help him today.
“As I got older, I can remember coaches better than I can when I was younger…. In the younger years, there was a coach who came into town and didn’t have any children on the team, a coach that kind of [emphasized] just the enjoyment of the game. He really did a good job of framing the team together.
“As I got older, I got into the high school age level. The head coach in my high school team did a pretty good job of talking about and working on systems, which was somewhat new to me. And, again, just putting all the players on the same page, and following the same system was a pretty valuable lesson.”
Following his playing days, Ellis coached in Kitchener before settling in Woolwich, where he now focuses on his son’s novice squad, which is newly returned to the ice after the latest lockdown.
“We had our first practice on Saturday. [It was] really good to be back on the ice. The kids were tired, which seemed to be a little indication that they needed hockey – there was a bunch of happy kids back on the ice.”
Back doing drills with his whistle at the ready, ‘Coach Mike’ said his work wouldn’t be possible without the help of Todd Nelson, Jeremy Lovenuk, Dan Smith and Amy Rae from Woolwich Minor Hockey, all of whom share in the OMHA coach of the month recognition.