Fort St. John's own Mike Vandekamp

Today I read a post by Philip Wolf of The Daily News called “Old ways not always best.”

It’s a story on the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL, and my old coach Mike Vandekamp’s rather “old school” style of running a hockey club.

Vandy is in his first year as head coach there. He’s been coaching since 23 when he ran the Merritt Centennials in the same league, before eventually moving onto the Vernon Vipers (where our time overlapped), the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, and the Grande Prarie Storm of the AJHL.

The story is that he may or may not have made his team run around Nanaimo’s Beben Park field after losing a game badly in Victoria. As in, after they arrived back at the rink on the bus to unload gear, it was punishment time. (If I know Mike, I’d bet there were zero words allowed on the bus.)

He won’t say if it’s true or not, the team won’t say either, so the author’s angle is ”I don’t know if he made them do it or not, but if he did, that’s really wrong.”

It’s a pretty reasonable piece, in which Wolf explains:

I understand the need to instill discipline in your players, to weed out the ones who won’t work hard and keep the ones who buy into the program.

But some old-school stuff just seems rather daft in this day and age. Remember when asking for a drink of water during a game was seen as a sign of weakness?

Fun fact: you weren’t allowed water at a Vernon Vipers practice until the allocated water breaks.

More from Wolf:

And if there are youngsters, some potentially with school the next day, forced to do anything other than head home to bed after a midweek game and a bus ride back from Victoria, that would be reprehensible.

So here’s my thoughts on “old school” coaching methods (and incidentally, Vandy’s style): I think they’re stupid, but I’m totally fine with them.

My years in Vernon were nothing short of fantastic. Playing for Mike is like being in the military, in a good way. You get used to your routine until you come to require it. You were proud of being militantly disciplined, stewing on your anger and saving it for the next shift while watching your frustrated opponents slam bench gates like clowns.

“Never let ‘em see you sweat.”

Our team was an efficient killing machine and man, did we win. Hell, we swept the BCHL playoffs 16-0.

Do I think Vandy made those kids run? Come on. Of course he did.

But so what? Did he drown one of them or something?

We ran the arena stairs in our gear (some in dress shoes, not planning on a workout) after tying an opponent at home the game before Christmas break. We wore our gear on the bus from the rink in Langley to our hotel. I could type 20 more “we did” sentences here, but I’ll spare you.

As we did those things, we hated Vandy together (which was uniting in itself), but….only during those workouts. I loved playing for Snapdekamp, and most of those kids will too. You can find a lot of people out there who enjoyed playing for authoritarian coaches.

Mike taught me the meaning of hard work, and while some of the punishments like the one in question here were over the top, whatever. I got in better shape, we won, I got seen, and eventually earned a scholarship. No way that happens without Mike and his “methods.”

If you’re coaching a major junior team, you can’t run a team that way. You’re beholden to NHL teams and agents and all those other headaches. Up and coming superstars wouldn’t stand for it, they’d demand trades, it just wouldn’t fly.

But if you’re running a junior A team, you absolutely can, and many do. Mike just happens to be one of them.

And I’ll tell you what – look out for his team this year and every other year. You’ve got to play the games anyway, Mike just reminds you it’s easier to win.

So what say you? Is this sort of thing across the line, or are you cool with it?