By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey
When you think of Puerto Rico Ice Hockey is not the first sport that pops into your head its Baseball, but for Scott Killips hockey is his life and when he had the opportunity to coach Puerto Rico National Ice Hockey Team at the Latam Cup he jump on it. We caught up with Scott and ask him a few question about hockey on the island and the Latam Cup.
How did you get into coaching and why sledge hockey?
My Father, and my Great Uncle were both hockey coaches out of Sault Ste Marie Michigan, so I’ve always had the “coaching bug”.I’ve played hockey my entire life & I got into coaching hockey back in 1993 in Central Michigan. We were a new organization coming from an outdoor program and moving indoors into a new building. Being a part of a new program afforded me a lot of opportunities to learn at many levels. When I relocated to West Michigan several years later, a similar opportunity arose with starting a relatively new program which I became a part of. Once we moved to Florida about 5 years ago, my son was just finishing up his youth hockey and I inquired into coaching again. I was put in touch with Ron Robichaud from Florida Sled Hockey and immediately became a fan of sledge hockey.
I’ve coached from the ADM all the way up, I was never exposed to sled hockey until coming to Florida and it didn’t take long to “sink the hooks in”. At the time, Ron had run 2 programs, 1 in Ft Myers at a recreational level and another team as a state-wide Florida Elite level.
Watching those athletes play a game I’ve coached and played most of my life was incredible. It’s the same game, just played differently. The physical nature of the game of sled hockey is what really got me excited to Coach again. Although the game is similar, the training, equipment, conditioning & dexterity and agility are way different. Even though its basically the same game; as a coach, sled hockey gives you a different perspective of the game.
Ron and I won a National Championship in the NHL Sled Classic hosted at the Panther Den in 2015. The banner is still hanging there today. That was a tournament to remember! We ran a sled hockey clinic in Aguadilla Puerto Rico shortly after that and it went over very well. The people in the area from the Mayor on down were incredibly welcoming and excited to see hockey come to them. We had a representative from the Panthers organization along with us that ran an outdoor hockey clinic and gave sticks & nets to the community. In the future, we are hoping to start programs there for the youth, adult and disabled community.
How did you hear about Puerto Rico ice hockey. Why did you want to coach them?
There’s a saying in hockey “85% of coaching is 95% recruiting I don’t know much about how the other teams came to fruition, but ours came at the hands of Ron Robichaud the teams G.M. He literally handled this thing from pillar to post! He assembled the team, paid the fees, ordered the jerseys, sticks, shirts, booked the rooms, contacted players/other G.Ms scheduled scrimmages, ordered merchandise, the whole 9-yards. And he did it all in about 90 days!! #notabigdeal –)
Ron has a lifetime of hockey experience and contacts around the globe, literally. He knew that I would be interested in Coaching the team and I was Humbled and Honored when he asked me to coach this team.
The caliber of players that Ron assembled in that short amount of time made things very easy for me as a Coach. The hockey I.Q of this team was very high and they came together very quickly over a short period of time. If all skill levels are equal, these types of tournaments are usually won by those team that bond the quickest & make the least amount of mistakes. As a Coach, you couldn’t ask for a better locker room of players. Our team was comprised of all ages 53-16 years old. I believe that we had the only co-ed team in the tournament as well as the smallest bench. That just goes to show the character level of all the players we had on this team.
This tournament meant something to each and every person involved with it and I sincerely hope that the people of P.Rico appreciate the commitment that was made from everyone involved in this event. We had players traveling from the island , from Chicago, D.C and the Carolinas. We had a father and three of his sons representing the island as well. I cannot imagine how excited he was, not only to represent his country, but to do it with his three boys as well! By the way, he got our first goal as well…..#notabigdeal..wink
What were the expectations Going into the Latam Cup?
We honestly had no idea what to think about our team until we assembled them the day of the first game. We knew we had some good hockey players because of their backgrounds & where they played; however; we honestly had no idea what skill level that we had in totality. We had a scrimmage the night before vs Mexico that went pretty well; however a couple of teammates could not be there, so it was nice to see how quickly they figured each others playing styles and who works best where.
It’s very easy to “over-coach” or inject yourself as a coach into the team, but I’ve found that allowing the team to work things out among themselves adds to the continuity of the team. In my experience, coaching is not done from the bench anyways. You have to read and react to certain situations that you or your other coaches see, but those are adjustments. Coaching is made from analyzing what your teams strengths are and what your opponents weaknesses are and making a game plan for your next opponent. The credit for this teams success lies in the G.M who got the right mix and the players who executed.
Puerto Rico made to the final of division II but lost. Do you think you could none anything different that might of changed the outcome?
We went into this tournament with nothing else in mind than to win it. I think any team you put together for this type of tournament, you hope that is their mentality.
We had several chances in the first period to jump into an early lead, but we couldn’t cash in..We moved the puck well, we played our game, We had everything we needed to win, speed through the neutral-zone, rushes from our defense and strength down the middle of the ice. We played hard and fast hockey, which was our style of game, but when you are not getting the bounces and things start going the other way, things tend to be like quicksand; the harder you try, the worse they get.
At the same time, they capitalized on the chances that they got. A little “puck-luck” and a bounce or two and we were right back in the game. but it didn’t work out. Bottom line is that we lost to a very good R.O.T.W team who’s goaltender played outstanding…..I think our team left everything they had on the ice and that’s all you can really ask for.
Overall what do you think about the talent level and Latam Cup in general?
I read a good majority of the player bios before attending the Cup, so I was not surprised at the skill levels of the players or coaches. There are some seriously good hockey players involved in this and that’s a great thing. The speed and skill levels of some of these teams was great! If anything kinda took me by surprise it was the amount of fans and supporters in the stands and the amount of teams and divisions! It was truly something to see with the fans waiving banners and flags, singing and cheering for their respective teams. That was, by far , the best thing about the tournament for me. The amount of people who traveled for this to support their teams was amazing! This was a very well run tournament in all respects.
With the Ice rink in Puerto Rico almost complete, will Puerto ice hockey invest in youth programs?
Well, we don’t have any kids skating yet.. Until we get the boards up, that first layer of ice down and that first player signed up we really can’t hang our hats on anything quite yet. There’s a long-long road ahead and a ton of work to be done! From what we have experienced on our last trip to Puerto Rico with the introductions to sled and street hockey; I think the timing is right, the community certainly support is there as well.
But we still need funds to make this a reality, not just for a shirt-term, but to really put Puerto Rico on the “Hockey Map” long-term. Once the infrastructure is in place, then we can start building a youth & disabled programs and that’s what is truly exciting! It’s exciting to be part of Growing the Game in the Caribbean! If you had asked me this question 10 years ago about youth hockey in Puerto Rico, I would have though you had a “few too many with the fellas”, but seeing this movement grow in all of these countries and being a part of it is truly amazing and something that I am honored to be a part of!
Do think the game can grow on the Island giving that Baseball is such a big sport and cheaper sport to play?
The financial aspect of the game of hockey is always a tough one. With any project you have, you begin with the end in mind..So, starting things off with a budget to work with is paramount in growing and maintaining this game in any area..It’s certainly going to take more than a few hands on deck, right? We are going to need long-term, established sponsors who are committed to see this through. Sponsors who not only want to be a part of growing the game of hockey, but who see an incredible opportunity here for long-term, sustainable product growth. The game of hockey has grown exponentially over the last decade or so. The amount youth, adult, disabled, women’s and girls teams continues to grow, so there is a real opportunity here for someone to step in and make this work. U.S.A Hockey exists primarily on volunteers, so essentially, manpower is the easy part. It’s going to be the long term, committed sponsors/donors that make the game of hockey thrive or simply chug-along (in my humble opinion) I’m excited to see what the NHL has in store for supporting the game in this region.
There are now two Caribbean nations that play hockey yourselves and Jamaica. Do think the game can spread to other Caribbean nations in the near future?
Why Not? I mean 10 years ago would you ever have thought there would be a Jamaican or Puerto-Rico hockey team? Not me, I also never thought there would be a NHL team in Arizona, or Anaheim for that matter Las Vegas, Seattle! How about China, Japan, Netherlands, Korea? Even the Middle East is developing hockey teams on a competitive level, so why not the Caribbean? Not only are these teams competitive, but the markets there are very supportive of their teams and again, the minor leagues, the youth teams, women’s teams, disabled teams are booming! But again, it’s the long-term financial commitment that’s going to be the difference between those programs who excel and those who fall flat. Hockey is for Everyone Right! So lets Grow the Game!
When you are not coaching, what do like to do in your spear time?
I love to fish and spend time with my kids and grand kids.I have three children, 2 all grown and out of the house, but one left. My daughter, son law & granddaughter are in Naples, so we get to see them a lot. My boys still skate every so often with me in Ft Myers, so it’s really a treat when I get to experience that! There’s not a lot of those experiences left in the tank, so I tend to really appreciate those times when it happens.
My wife and I are coming up on 26 years of marriage and for most of those 26 years we have been in and out of hockey rinks! We just battled through stage 3 breast cancer this past year and that was a tough battle. So we plan on traveling in the next few years. Maybe visit a few rinks south of Florida (wink wink).Hockey has brought so many great people into our lives that I don’t really know what it’s going to be like as I step away from the game. Thank you for this opportunity! IF you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask!
I was so very Proud to see Puerto Rico Get the Silver Cup. And even prouder because my grandson was on the team. My hope is to see Puerto Rico win the gold one day, one of many Gold Cups. My grandson was #22 15 years old. Watch for him & watch for Puerto Rico. Que viva Puerto Rico ????