The lights went out momentarily Saturday afternoon at Virgil’s Centennial Arena, just long enough to reset the scoreboard back to zero on all accounts.
That didn’t bother the boys and girls on Jamie Kallio’s U11 team #2, who aren’t scoreboard-watchers anyway.
“They don’t really care about the score,” he tells The Local. “They love coming out to the arena to play hockey. They’re excited about it, they enjoy the sport, and that’s what it’s all about. We’re not worrying about wins and losses. We’re developing kids to move up, maybe to rep hockey or beyond.”
Kallio’s young charges were more surprised than scared when their surroundings went into near-total darkness, never having been in such a large building after hours. There were some laughs and giggles on the bench as those on the ice skated back to the boards to marvel at the power outage with their friends.
Coaching this age group is a new challenge for Kallio, a one-time Port Colborne Sailor Junior B hockey player and former coach of the Chippawa Riverhawks Junior C team. He jumped at the opportunity to help further develop a love for the game in his own sons, Lucas and Sam, who are playing together this winter, and other nine- and 10-year-olds in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Kallio says the 12 kids are excited to come out for every Monday practice, as well as the home or away games on the weekends. They share the ice Mondays with the other U11 developmental team, giving the coaches an opportunity to group players by ability level to further their skills.
“At the local league, there can be such a difference between players that are starting out and players on the cusp of moving up,” Kallio explains. “It’s a good chance for them to mix and play, try different drills and skill sets. We make the most of our one-hour ice time.”
On Saturday, the Wolves were first on the scoreboard against the Welland Tigers, something Kallio talked about after their previous game against the same team.
“We got going right off the hop,” affirmed Kallio. “That came from a conversation we had in the dressing room. We wanted to get something going right from the opening face-off. They took to that right away. I tried to keep things simple for them.”
Kallio’s strategy was to have his team keep the puck out of the middle of the ice and try to get lots of shots on the Welland net. With a couple of really good skaters on the Wolves, the focus was to dump the puck into the Tigers’ zone and beat them to it, then to crash the net to get the shot. It paid off early on.
As the game progressed, though, the Wolves’ chances to score dwindled, as they repeatedly had difficulty moving the puck beyond their own blue line. Despite the scoreboard showing no score at the end, Welland won the game 5-1.
Still looking for their first win this season in their division of the Niagara District Local League, the young hockey players weren’t affected by the loss, and all left the ice energized and smiling.
“It’s a good age to be teaching them fundamentals and skills,” Kallio says. “Their spirits seem status quo for the most part. I never have to worry about them not wanting to play hockey, or not wanting to come out to the arena. They’re having fun.”