It can happen, a cool stroll through the woods can turn up a treasure just by turning over a few stones in the water. One never really knows when a casual conversation (about a goalie none the less) can lead to a 45-minute conversation.
In a season full of delays, closures, and tremendous compromise, it’s certainly refreshing to hear from a young coach that simply gets it. Let’s face it, the profession has lost a lot of it’s luster after being tarnished by so many self-serving yahoos with egos much larger than their career will ever deserve. To hear a young coach have the courage to be focused more on the development of his young charges than just the success on the ice is refreshing.
Yellowstone Quake (North American 3 Hockey League) bench boss Phil Oberlin is a throwback that better aligns with the master coaches of junior hockey than the new breed of young glory seekers. While other pay-to-play coaches are stuffing the skates with twenty-bombs, Oberlin has held fast to his commitment to development. Folks, that is a great sign.
Want to learn more? The following is from an email exchange with the Quake coach.
SH: Tell us about your coaching experience prior to joining the Quake.
PO: Prior to moving and coaching in Cody, WY for the Yellowstone Quake, I coached the Ohio University ACHA D2 hockey program for seven years. We were able to move the second year program into a team which became competitive on the national level by earning four straight Southeast Regional Tournament Bids and the programs first ACHA National Tournament.
While coaching at Ohio University, I had the honor of being selected as an assistant coach for the ACHA D2 Select team which competed in the World Cup of College Hockey throughout Europe.
Along with coaching at the collegiate level I had the privilege to work as the Hockey Director of the Athens Youth Hockey Association and the Coordinator of the Bird Arena LTPH program. It’s always been important for me to give back to the youth hockey community anywhere I’m coaching.
I decided to pursue coaching junior hockey and that’s when I became aware of the Yellowstone Quake program through Sean Hogan, who coached the Quake in the early 2000’s. I had the pleasure of working with Sean at Ohio University for four years prior to joining Yellowstone and I’m honored to be a part of the great tradition of coaches who have coached this program.
SH: Yellowstone’s NA3HL team is operated by a non-profit board. What is that like and how is the team supported in the community?
PO: The Cody community support is phenomenal for the program and the individual players. Local business owners are always willing to participate in sponsorship opportunity with the team and hire on players to help earn money to pay for billeting and team fees. Along with the financial support from local businesses, fans in Cody consistently support the team by attending games on Friday & Saturday nights at Riley Arena with an average attendance of 450 fans.
The Yellowstone Quake are in the middle of our 15-year anniversary season and I believe the longevity of our program has to do with the fact that we’re operated as a non-profit organization and have a board of directors who oversee the off-ice operations along with the coaching staff. Each member of the board is a year round resident of Cody and have been involved with the program for years. The board members want to see the players succeed both on and off the ice and this is apparent as most of the board members also serve as billet families for players. They’re willing to do anything to put the players first and help them to mature as hockey players and young men during their time in Cody.
SH: What is the atmosphere and life like for players in Cody?
PO: Quake players are on the ice four days a week, Monday through Thursday, for practice at Riley Arena and workout twice a week at the Barbell Club, which is our strength and conditioning facility. Our games are played on Friday & Saturday nights at the prime time slot of 7:30pm allowing for the fan base to come support the teams and players. Prior to the home Friday night games, we’ll treat the players to a morning skate and team breakfast at the rink.
The players understand that being in a small town, they’re under a microscope when they’re in public but this also comes with the perks of being highlighted in the local paper weekly and on the Big Horn Radio station for weekend recaps. With as much support as we receive from our community in Cody, we understand we need to give back to the community as well. Each Fall the players assist local residence with raking leaves, moving families if needed, participation in after school programs such as Bright Futures or reading with elementary school kids. Our players also assist youth hockey coaches at practice and as a program we volunteer to operate the on-ice portion of the Park County Youth Hockey Association’s House League.
Each of our players is placed with a billet family for the year and our families take them in like one of their own. Our billets are exceptional about welcoming players into their homes and making the players feel comfortable while they’re away from home. The billets do anything they can to assist the players to reach their goals of playing in the NAHL or College Hockey.
Aside from the hockey, we make sure our players enjoy the time they spend in a truly unique part of the country. We hike up mountains as part of our training camp, take a team trip out to visit Yellowstone National Park to swim in the rivers and enjoy the wildlife, take them shooting at the Cody Firearms Range, skate on the frozen lakes and enjoy the hot springs in the Winter. Hockey is the main focus while our players are in Cody but we treat them first class on and off the ice.
SH: What is your vision for the future of the club?
PO: Our vision for Yellowstone Quake Hockey is to become the premier program within the NA3HL for advancing players to Tier II Jr Hockey and eventually into college hockey. This goal aligns with the goals of our league and our affiliate league, the NAHL which continues to produce record breaking numbers of NCAA commitments. The exposure players receive through the NA3HL and the NAHL family is unmatched by any other Tier II or Tier III junior hockey league in the United States.
Program Goal is to create a player centered environment, where the emphasis is on development through intense on-ice and off-ice training and competition.
The team composition should always start with the core of the team returning players who will be coming back for their 2nd year of competition. The remaining roster will be filled with younger players who are ready to make meaningful contributions to the team.
We want to separate ourselves from other Tier III Junior hockey programs with our commitment to the LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development) of our players, which stems from the NTDP (National Team Development Program). Our players are judged on effort, attitude and execution, rather than outcome. Winning will become a byproduct of our daily work and development.
We want to recreate the model of USA Hockey U17 and U18 National Teams at the Tier III Junior hockey level by giving younger players the opportunity to play against older and more experience players. This opportunity allows for younger players to get playing experience in the game against higher level of competition.
According to USA Hockey, “The crucible of competition against older teams means players have to develop quickly. And we have found, through experience, that they do improve at a rapid pace when playing against older, more experienced players.”
That’s all we had to hear. Oberlin will get a few Victorious Hockey Company prospects next season, giving us a chance to get an even closer look into the program he’s cultivating in Cody. I suggest a few of you add Oberlin to the list of coaches to be considered as well.
Photo By: Margaret Kispert