By Dan Plouffe
Three of the five Central Canada Jr. A Hockey League franchises inside the City of Ottawa have lost their head coaches since the end of last season, and all cited the same motive for their resignations – “family reasons.”
While that could be a convenient cover for other issues that may have caused a split with their club, in the case of the Gloucester Rangers with Rick Dorval, the Kanata Stallions with Adam Dewan and most recently the Ottawa Jr. Senators with Peter Ambroziak, the story certainly holds up.
And when you examine the tremendous strain coaching in the CCHL entails, it becomes easier to understand why so many could leave their posts in favour of more time at home.
Take Dorval’s old day for example, which would be typical for a CCHL head coach.
“16 hours without a break – on a good day“
Dorval, a Canada Post letter carrier supervisor, would wake up for his day job at 5 a.m. During breaks or lunchtime, it was a chance to fit in some hockey-related calls. After 2 p.m. quitting time, he’d make a quick trip home to change and take a short nap if there was time.
Dorval needed to arrive at the rink by 4 p.m. for one-on-one player meetings before practice, which ran from 5-7 p.m. Then it was video analysis and other responsibilities, such as communicating with colleges interested in his players. If he was lucky, he’d get home at 9 p.m.
It was the same schedule every weekday except for Thursday, which was usually his off-day – minus the regular full-time shift at Canada Post. Road games in Pembroke when the bus would get back home at 1 a.m. were particularly tough.
Every weekend was devoted almost entirely to the rink with a pair of games scheduled most of the time. Last October, Dorval had three days off from coaching – and two of those he spent scouting players in other leagues.
The grind was a little too much, and with plans to get married soon, Dorval left his job with the Rangers and took on a less time-consuming assistant coach position with Smiths Falls.
For Gloucester general manager Paul Jennings, picking another young coach – Sylvain Favreau – to replace Dorval not only made sense, it was almost a necessity.
“They’re young and full of energy,” Jennings explains. “It’s a 24/7 job. You’ve got to be doing it all the time. There’s always something.”
That was a reality the Jr. Senators’ Ambroziak wasn’t quite prepared to handle. The former owner of a team in New Mexico moved back to Ottawa to take over the club’s head coach and general manager position in the off-season, but wound up resigning before training camp (although he did stay on to run the camp).
“Peter Ambroziak is a first-class individual,” says Darren Graff, the Jr. Sens’ head scout who is currently filling the general manager’s role on an interim basis. “I was really looking forward to working with him this year. The skillset he brings was on par with anybody else in this league.
“Unfortunately it was just not a good situation at the moment. Coming back to Canada with a young family, it can be a little overwhelming at times.”
At the moment, Graff believes he has the time to commit to hockey, and it’s the love of the game – and the fun that comes from being successful – that pushes him through long days.
“The vast majority of people in this league have a day job,” notes Graff, who works for a company that makes high-definition cameras. “So you put your 40-60 hours into that, and then you’re looking at another 40-60 hours to be a head coach and general manager in this league.
“You have to be really prepared to put in that kind of time to put a winning product on the ice. It is hard.”
For Dewan, last year’s league coach-of-the-year and a City of Ottawa roads department employee, a desire to spend more time with his wife and their newborn baby was the reason he stepped down as Stallions coach after last season.
Even those that remain in their posts are quick to acknowledge the strain involved in being a CCHL coach, especially when everyone else is working equally hard to put together the best hockey team possible.
“I put 93,000 km on my car last year scouting and recruiting,” notes Nepean Raiders coach and general manager Peter Goulet, who had only been home three times in the six weeks prior to the start of the season when he spoke to SportsOttawa.com. “I’ve got three days off now and I’m going to try to enjoy it with my daughter and my wife, and the grind will start next week.
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