With the Coach is a weekly series featuring a conversation with a local coach.
Coach: Fred Ablenas, a 55-year-old Beaconsfield resident who works as a chemist and a forensic materials expert
Team: Lakeshore Junior B Leopards
Years coached: 15 years
Playing experience: Midget
Best coaching tip: Listen to players.
While Fred Ablenas, who grew up in a small Ontario town with no arena, only played one year of midget hockey, he did compete in wrestling and football at the university level.
Over his 15 seasons as a minor hockey coach, he has always been involved with one of his three sons’ teams, taking turns with the trio over the years.
How did you get into coaching?
Ablenas: I have three boys and one of my boys started playing hockey and I wanted to be involved and help out. And I decided I liked it.
I started at novice as an assistant coach. The head coach asked if people were willing to help. He was a guy named Wally Weir (a former NHL player) who was coaching one of his sons also. He set a very good example. In minor hockey, everybody pays to play and should be treated fairly and be given the same ice time. That’s what he did. He demystified amateur coaching a lot.
What is your coaching style?
Ablenas: My approach to coaching varies on the age level, since I’ve coached everything from novice to junior. Generally, my philosophy is to try to instil a team sense of play. Which sounds kind of clichéd, but a lot of minor hockey coaches rely too much on their star players and I think it is to the detriment of the rest of the team. I try to get the kids to buy into the system where hockey is a two-way game, you are either on offence or defence. You don’t just skate up the ice and shoot the puck, miss the net, shrug your shoulders and watch the other team come back and put the puck into your net.
Take us through a typical practice.
Ablenas: For younger kids the emphasis is really on skills, mostly skating and puck skills. Through peewee and bantam, there are a lot of fundamentals in practices.
With the older kids, if they haven’t perfected their skating techniques by now, they probably never will. At a typical practice we will work a lot on situational plays, defensive zone positioning.
Practising the power play is always good because it’s positioning and creating opportunities.
What is key to inspiring junior players?
Ablenas: For junior single letters, these are all guys for whom the NHL dream is long gone. They play because they like to play in a competitive game of hockey. These are the future garage league players or future old-timers. So I try to instil a sense of fun in the game for them.
Hardest part of coaching?
Ablenas: The most understated problem with junior is we always get the last ice of the evening. Because of midget and junior and my three sons, I’ve been leaving the arena after 11 p.m. for at least a decade now and it’s starting to wear a bit thin.