Juan Strickland has no regrets leaving the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association. His involvement with the Natuashish minor hockey association has been extremely satisfying and lots of positive things are coming from it for the participants.
Five years ago Juan Strickland left the Corner Brook Minor Hockey Association to start a new adventure up north. He took over the then-budding Natuashish minor hockey association and said he’s loved the experience.
“First when I came up I didn’t know how long I was going to survive here,” he said. “Most people said, ‘You’re going up to Natuashish, you won’t survive up there. The kids up there won’t listen, they won’t buy into it, and they’re going to be disobedient.’ I disagree. I’ve been here long enough no to know the kids up here respond just as good as the kids on the island, maybe better.”
In the five years since Strickland has taken over he’s taken teams all over the island and to other parts of Labrador to play, and he said they’ve been getting noticed. Last year he took three teams to play in different tournaments around the province.
“In all three they were the talk of the tournament,” he said. “Their skating skills, their ability to play, their sportsmanship. Winning is not always the most important thing; these are the things I’m proud of.”
He said he currently has about 85 kids who show up to practice on a regular basis. It’s been growing each year and Strickland said it’s very satisfying to see.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” he said. “I’m enjoying it, I see the kids are enjoying the program, they’re there every day, and they want to play. I see their skills developing, I can see a lot of positive. Their behaviour, their attitude towards hockey, the self confidence and self-esteem they’re getting from it. It’s great to see those traits develop.”
The teams practice in a large $22-million facility, which contains both an arena and a large gymnasium. While they have the capability to host a tournament, the possibility of one is very unlikely, due to the prohibitive cost of travelling to the area.
“The facility we have in Natuashish is comparable to anything on the island,” he said. “Because of our location, the geography of where we’re located, no one has ever come here to play a game. For us to go to Goose Bay it’s $11,000. We’re not going to get Goose Bay to come up here to play for that kind of cost. I understand it but it’s unfortunate.”
This cost does limit how often his teams get to travel for tournaments but Strickland said there has been funding made available for it. Because of that he does have to pick and choose where the teams can travel. He said attending the Mega Tournament in Happy Valley-Goose Bay cost $40,000 to take three teams. The midget team took home the gold at that tournament, which was a great confidence boost for the kids.
“They walk around and they’re proud of themselves,” Strickland said of the players. “They think ‘when it comes to hockey now, people take us seriously.’ It’s great, it’s a wonderful story. I know a lot of the time the media covers the negativity that’s gone on up here, so this hockey program is an avenue where they have some pride and they know they’re getting better.”