Bozek Richards Hockey: Small ice, big learning

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Megan Bozek teaching a small group at Cutting Edge. All photos in this post are from the Bozek Richards Hockey Twitter page unless otherwise stated.

Ever since I took up ice hockey at the age of 21, I’ve been trying to make up for all those years of lost ice time – hard. Moving to Ontario has definitely made my life goal of making Team Canada at the age of 60 a lot easier. Sadly, my teammates in Vancouver have to live vicariously through my experiences and the teaching points that I share with them via text. I had the pleasure of participating in Megan Bozek and Kristen Richards’ Weekend Warrior camp on September 26th in Oakville, Ontario, so settle in for another camp love fest post.

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Megan Bozek and Kristen Richards.

If you’ve read my summaries of the Ouellette-Poulin adult camps [2018] [2019], you’ve probably gotten a sense of the order out of chaos that happens in Montreal. There are lots of players and coaches, and it’s go-go-go for an entire weekend. It’s a wonderful blur of activity. This particular Bozek-Richards camp couldn’t have been more different. Definitely still wonderful but far less blurry (save for when Kristen decides to show off, in which case she literally does become a blur). This camp took place at the Cutting Edge development centre with only 8 players on a mini-rink. It was a sell-out with only 8 players. EIGHT players, TWO coaches. If only our entire education system could have this kind of teacher-to-student ratio! The limited number of players and small ice surface meant we really got to focus on fundamentals.

I had never been to Cutting Edge before so on the drive I thought to myself, “Wonder if the locker room will be easy to find.” Not a problem. I walked in the front door, turned right, and immediately saw Nine Hockey jerseys hung up around the first locker room with our player packages thoughtfully laid out. Megan Bozek greeted me at the door. Life was good.

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The first thing that happened on the ice was that Kristen burned our legs off. We broke down our strides and extension along the boards before moving to open ice…where we basically forgot everything we learned along the boards #JoysOfTeaching. We each had a jersey buddy (2 colours x 4) and were broken up into stations to work in tandem with our buddy. There was a wide range of playing experience between the 8 of us but none of this mattered because everyone worked at their own level on the ice and to their own pace. For one skater, it was only her fourth time on the ice, so everyone is encouraged to participate. And, from my experience with women-led adult hockey programs, there is a gendered dimension where novice women are far more comfortable asking questions to women coaches than they are to men coaches. Obviously, this does not apply to all women but coaches need to know that who is on the ice can be equally as important as what takes place on the ice.

My favourite part of the Bozek Richards camp might have been the pattern of learning:

  • Talk through a drill and its teaching points.
  • Do the drill once.
  • Re-convene because we all did things wrong. Re-focus the teaching points.
  • Return to the drill.

A lot of folks at the Ouellette-Poulin camp can feel overwhelmed by the amount of activity, and one of my teammates commented that she didn’t get time to perfect what she was working on. If you’re looking to perfect something, that’s not going to happen at a weekend camp — let alone a large one. Camp is where you go to get a laundry list of the things you’re bad at so that you can go home and work on those areas of deficiency. But when there’s only 8 participants, you can really slow things down and focus on the little things. So, for those who are newer to the game, a Weekend Warriors sessions like this one might be a good way to prepare folks mentally and physically for those larger adult camps. If you’re a more seasoned player, life just becomes a different kind of hard for you. After all, if Marie-Philip Poulin and other members from the National Team take the time to learn some tips Richards, then there’s no harm in us going through the same process.

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From left to right: Jaime Lee Rattray, Brianne Jenner, Marie-Philip Poulin, Mario Zitella, Laura Stacey, Coach Richards, Elijah Milne-Price. Photo from Kristen Richards’ Twitter.

Kristen ran us through skating drills and then handed the mic over to Megan for stick handling. We did one drill that was sooooo fundamental and sooooo challenging, it was fascinating! Megan had us simply skate up the ice pushing the puck with the backhand side of our stick. I do this all the time during a game without even thinking about it but when you’re asked to do it in a straight line and that is the sole purpose of your life for those 10 seconds — brain explosion. One of my favourite things about being taught instead of being the teacher is recognizing all the things you usually tell folks, and realizing that you don’t do those simple things. Example: you can move your body around the puck. *Face palm.* Do you know how many times I have told people to move their feet around a tennis ball instead of letting the ball dictate your body position? I chuckled to myself when Megan told us that we can move our bodies because it was such a recognizable teaching moment. But that’s kind of the point: it’s easy to forget the fundamentals when there is so much to learn.

Megan and Kristen are super personable coaches with a great eye for technique. There are some coaches that are great at conditioning, others run creative drills, but not everyone has an eye for technique and understands the progressions necessary to get a person’s body from point A to point B. These two are great at pinpointing what is the most fundamental thing that the player needs to do in that moment to elevate their play. They also work well together, often building off of each other’s teaching points. The environment they create is very relaxed and amenable to learning. Example: Kristen invited us to think of Boze as a pylon, Boze proceeded to put a pylon on her head. They are also really open to answering questions, and this is probably the biggest difference between coaching kids versus adults (women in particular). Women athletes tend to want to know why we are learning something or how it fits into the bigger picture. Allowing that extra time for women’s adult programs is essential to a positive player experience.

One of the questions my friends asked me after the Weekend Warriors camp, in comparison to the Ouellette-Poulin camp, was: Were your legs as tired? Yes. Full stop. Yes. Physically speaking, two hours of individualized attention feels very similar to two days on the ice with 30 other skaters. In Montreal, we are usually taking turns with 7 other people and it’s very dynamic moving where we work with other players in more complex patterns. In Oakville, we only had one other person waiting in line, which meant all those other repetitions were YOU. My legs were seizing up while sitting in traffic driving back into the city after camp. So yes, don’t worry — you will get a solid workout even though the overall pace is slower.

After camp, they sent us an email detailing some of the drills we had done with the main teaching points so that we can continue to learn on our own. I’m not sure why it’s taken the hockey world so long to figure out that adult women hockey players have money to spend and that there is a genuine thirst to learn as much as possible. Perhaps the best example of this demographic erasure is the fact that the Hockey Canada Annual Report keeps track of ASHL (Adult Safe Hockey League) registrations for men but not for women. Nothing but dashes is sadly representative of the state of women’s hockey in Canada right now. Thankfully, Richards and Boze have figured out that we exist and matter. For that, we are grateful.

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Hockey Canada’s 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Follow Bozek Richards Hockey on Twitter, on Instagram, and sign up for their email list: hockeycampinfo@gmail.com.

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Our Weekend Warrior crew!

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