The following article is from GTR Newspapers, a collection of local community papers from around the Tulsa, OK area.
Written by GTR Staff Sports Writer, Glenn Hibdon.
Thanks to Glenn and GTR for their outstanding coverage of the Junior Oilers!
New Tulsa Junior Oilers coach Zac Desjardins said there’s more to hockey than scoring goals or delivering crunching body checks. For his team of 16 to 20 year olds, the sport is also intended to build character and teach life lessons.
Also on the line when the season opens Sept. 21 in Dallas are college scholarships and climbing the ladder to advanced levels in hockey.
“I highly recommend junior hockey because it helps kids grow up a little bit and find out who they are. “They can find out what they want to do in life,’’ said Desjardins, a Colorado native. “Schools are always there for them so why not experience three years of hockey. Hockey is a small community and it open doors down the road. It helps to know people in the hockey world.’’
The 33-year-old coach has seen the sport enable kids to blossom and reach their full potential. He’s in Tulsa to continue the tradition when the Junior Oilers of the Western States League suit up at the Oilers Ice Center, 64th and Mingo.
“I started coaching youth teams when I was 16,’’ Desjardins said. “My ultimate goal is to go as high as possible and be successful. I not only want to win, but develop players to move on to the next level. I’m not a guy who says winning the national championship is the greatest thing in the world. I’m happy when I see my kids move up the ranks.’’
Last season Desjardins helped coach a midget division team in Colorado and in previous years coached San Antonio in the Western States League and Kenai, Alaska, in the North American League. He also assisted in Campbelton, New Brunswick, after playing junior hockey in Saskatchewan and college hockey at Kent State.
“We got a lot of younger kids here, younger than in previous years,’’ Desjardins said of the Junior Oilers, who are recruited from all over the country. “I’m here to help them learn the game and become better players and gentlemen. I tell them when they’re adults, society will hold them responsible for their actions.
“I sort of use hockey as a guide. In high school, hockey is used as a hey, you need to finish your homework in order to play. When they go off to junior hockey, it helps them get into college and play. It gives them structure and focus to help them in class. I had structure and a set schedule and I think hockey helps.’’
Members of the Junior Oilers live with families in the community and must maintain a 3.0 grade point average in order to play. Desjardins said the family unit helps young players who are away from home for the first time and gives them a sense of belonging and normalcy.
“We’ve got a couple of kids who are doing online classes and I meet with all the players once a week to make sure they are making their grades,’’ Desjardins said. “If they fall below a 3.0 GPA, they don’t get as much ice time. We’re a Tier III level team and a lot teams are looking for kids with the better GPA. Our kids know colleges won’t take them if they fall below.
“A lot of teams are going with players who maybe aren’t as highly skilled on the ice, but are good off the ice. They want kids who are going to the gym and not getting into trouble. They want kids who are volunteering for public service and who aren’t being babysat or a headache for coaches. They don’t want attitude.’’
Desjardins said Tulsa has many people dedicated to hockey, those who helped bring back the Junior Oilers following the departure of the Tulsa Rampage two years ago. He said his players understand that and are respectful of their effort.
“A lot of people have opened their doors and hearts to make these players feel like a part of their families,’’ said Desjardins. “They do babysitting and chores around the house and have family dinners. It helps to have the kids happy away from the rink and on ice it’s a reflection of that. I enjoy being here too. I’ve been in Tulsa two months and I’m happy here.’’
In addition to being young, the coach said his Ice Oilers won’t be flashy, but a physical, positional team. He said the team will be blue collar, just work hard and get it done. Off the ice, he hopes Tulsa will provide the support his players need. After all, it really does take a village to raise a junior hockey player.
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