It’s hard to find a good phone booth these days, especially one with ice in it — but if you want to learn how to stick handle in tight situations, former Hope Minor Hockey player Kevin Koopman might have a solution for you: smaller ice.
Koopman recently picked up a job as assistant trainer at the Abbotsford Training Rink, a small-ice facility on South Fraser Way. When the head trainer left to pursue other opportunities, Koopman was offered a quick upgrade and he started his new role in September.
The former BCHL defenceman and 2006 draft pick of the Ottawa Senators had just finished four years of pre-med studies at Brown University in Rhode Island and was hoping to land a junior research position, while taking a year off to apply for medical school.
“The trouble with entry-level research jobs is that they don’t pay very well,” says Koopman. “I was looking at one in New York and it was paying $15 an hour — but the rent was $1,100 a month, minimum.
“I cast a pretty wide net for jobs over the summer and my wife, Devin, found this one on Craigslist,” recalls Koopman. “I applied and within about 10 minutes, they said I had the job if I wanted it.
“Ralph Vos was the head trainer at the time and I had trained with him when I was 13 and 14 years old.”
When Vos moved on, Koopman was elevated to the top spot and he is now in charge of planning lessons and camps. He also gives one-on-one and small group lessons.
“I’d say our rink is about 60 per cent of a regular rink size,” figures the Hope Secondary grad. “The main use for the rink is for three-on-three hockey. It’s good for getting kids used to working in a confined space, which forces them to make quicker decisions. Small rinks are hugely popular in the Toronto area.
“They really develop the learning curve of a player,” he contends. “On a large-sized rink, a kid can’t understand why he needs to pass more quickly, because there’s so much time and space.”
While Kevin has been a defensive specialist throughout his career, his years in elite-level minor hockey at the Burnaby Winter Club and junior hockey have given him some valuable connections to draw on for offensive skills training.
“One dad called me and said he noticed that I was a defenceman — but his son plays center and he wondered if I’d be able to help the kid with his face-off skills,” says Koopman.
“I told him I’d taken maybe two face-offs in my life and I was pretty sure I’d lost both of them. But I told him that I’d call my friend and get some pointers.”
The friend happened to be Kyle Turiss, who had a break-out year with the Ottawa Senators last year, after holding out for a trade from Phoenix.
“Kyle gave me some good pointers and I was able to help the kid,” says Koopman. “It was hard for him to argue, when the tips were coming straight from Kyle.”
In addition to the ice surface, the facility also has a skate mill — a plastic treadmill for skating on.
“It’s great for all levels of skaters,” says Koopman. “We have cameras at different angles for video analysis.”
While mirrors would give instant feedback — and be instantly broken by flying pucks — the video allows Koopman to rewind the tape and go frame by frame to show the skater where improvements are needed.
“We also want the skater to get a kinesthetic feeling for what it should feel like to be in the right body position,” he says.
Unlike skating on the ice, there’s no gliding on the skate mill. If you stop striding, you’ll be hanging in suspension by your safety harness.
“NHL players are good at shooting while they are skating, while average players like to glide before they shoot,” says Koopman. “The skate mill forces you to shoot while skating.”
Koopman is usually on-site from 1-8 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can reach him at 604-852-3080, or by email at Kevin@abbotsfordtrainingrink.com.