Coaching at the Cobourg Community Centre

“The core fundamentals of the position apply no matter what age”

Story and photos by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com

Port Hope’s Dan Stewart is anticipating the start of the Ontario Hockey League season in February, as he is the goaltending coach for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

For now, even if the time is limited, he’s enjoying being back on the ice working with goalies at local arenas like the Cobourg Community Centre and Port Hope’s Jack Burger Sports Complex. 

“It’s been great being back on the ice, I think both for my own well-being mentally as well as for all the goalies,” Stewart said following a session at the CCC. “It feels good to gain some sense of normalcy out and get back at it, even if it’s just for a couple hours a week.”

Now that it’s hockey season, Stewart is glad ice time is once again available. It wasn’t necessary, in his opinion, during some of the early months of the pandemic and he voiced that opinion on social media when some parents were concerned their child was falling behind in hockey due to arenas being closed.

“I’m still a believer that we are in a seasonal sport,” Stewart said. “I believe that kids in the spring and summer should do other sports. My point then on social media was also this is a good opportunity for kids to work on their bodies during the offseason and not just keep hammering away at being on the ice. I’ve found a lot of kids and parents, especially, were panicking during months that didn’t matter anyway. If your player isn’t on the ice in May and June, what’s the difference? They weren’t losing anything and people were panicking over a time when, in my opinion, they should be working on their overall skillset as an athlete as well as their body.”

That work could include bolstering their core strength, which Stewart said players often lack despite having natural athletic ability.

Stewart’s background locally has included working with minor hockey goalies of all ages from the Northumberland Minor Hockey and West Northumberland Girls associations. He was formerly the goaltending coach for the junior A Cobourg Cougars and has worked with university goalies with the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks.

Port Hope’s Dan Stewart, the goalie coach for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

He enjoys working with all age levels. 

“The core fundamentals of the position apply no matter what age,” Stewart said. “It’s about being able to skate, it’s about being able to be patient and being willing to be patient and it’s about having the ability to read the play as well as use your hands and feet. I can put different level goalies through similar drills that work on similar things and just add and take away from them based on the level and based on the needs of that goalie.”

When it comes to working with OHL players, coaching is about more than just on-ice results as the goalies are close to the possibility of reaching their goal of playing professional hockey.

“That age is such a fun age to work with because you’re seeing people come in as 16-year-olds and they’re kids and they leave 19 and 20-year-old young men. You see them grow through that and it’s very rewarding to be a part of that path for them,” Stewart said.

“At that age I’m focusing a lot on them learning how to become a good professional, so it’s about being a good human being, it’s about making sure you’re putting in the proper time and effort and that you’ve put in this commitment to move away from your family to play hockey, so let’s go for it. I believe that in my job, if I’m a good human and I’m focused on each person being the best version of themselves, that then helps me do the same for them.”

Stewart said he is fortunate to have worked with some great goaltenders with the Greyhounds, including Joseph Raaymakers and Matthew Villalta during his first season with the club in 2016-17.

“They really made my job easy…they were unbelievable human beings who did put in the extra time and effort and were just great, great people,” Stewart remarked. “That set the stage for me there to have that level of appreciation for the players and to really put in the extra effort on my end because if they’re going to put that level of effort in, I better bring my ‘A’ game, too.”

This season, Ethan Taylor from Trenton and Nick Malik, of the Czech Republic, are expected to play between the pipes for the Greyhounds.

“We’re set in net,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a lot of depth and each kid is going to come in and get what they earn.”

Overall, Stewart expects a strong season in Sault Ste. Marie as the team has gone through a bit of a rebuild, but will have a good number of returning players.

“We were a very young team last year that was very skilled so we’ll be one year older and hopefully one year better and the additions we bring in will hopefully help put us over the top and we’ll be right back to where we were in my first three seasons where we were a true competing team that was contending,” he said. “Last year, again, we were younger and just part of the junior cycle where we had to take our turn through that process and now we’re ready to make that next step and get right back at it.”

During his tenure with the Greyhounds, Stewart has been able to balance living in Port Hope with working in Sault Ste. Marie. He only spends every other week in the Sault, but can work from home the weeks that he’s in Port Hope.

“I’m pretty fortunate that my wife is really good about that and she’s understanding that I’m going to be gone every other week to the Sault and when I’m home, I make a concerted effort to be home,” Stewart said. “I’m not chasing rinks, I’m not out doing a bunch of sessions. She’s very supportive of everything that I do and my parents help with our kids. Even when I’m home, I’m doing a lot of work for the Sault on video and stuff like that. It’s a full-time job that has me there part-time.”

To listen to the full interview, check out: https://jgsportsmedia.com/2020/11/30/audio-interview-with-goalie-coach-dan-stewart/

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