The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Ex NHLer's take to the ice to teach their little girls a thing or two about hockey

thumb Ponytails1Blame it on genetics. Or maybe it's being Canadian.

 In either case, little ladies are picking up hockey sticks and seeking daddy's advice on how to perfect one's slap shot.

Lucky for these girls, their father's don't dabble in the sport – these dads have played pro – whether it was gunning for the Stanley Cup or a gold medal in the Olympics.

These former NHLers, now fathers, are taking their talents to the arena of girl's hockey. From tidbit to pee wee and onward, these daddies are coaching their daughters.

Defensive duo - Kevin and Madison Haller

"I'm in a situation where I've played so I have something to give back. But the No. 1 reason is to be a part of my daughter's life," Kevin Haller said, who won a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1993 against Wayne Gretzky's L. A. Kings.

Kevin coaches his daughter Madison Haller, 15, in AAA midget girl's hockey team, the Calgary Bruins.

"This isn't NHL hockey. But this is like my NHL right now and we are having a ball," Haller said.

Throughout the eight years that Maddy has played, her father has stood by from the bench as either a head or assistant coach.

Madison actually started out in figure skating but around seven-years-old, she decided she wanted to be part of a team sport and made the move to hockey.

"My father was content to let me figure skate if I wanted to but I wanted to play hockey," Madison said.

Following her father's footsteps, Madison now mans the blueline on defense, the same as her father's former position.

"He's been my role model and it's been great," she said.

As head coach of the Bruins, Kevin wants the girls to learn more than just how to optimize a power play or improve one's forecheck.

"Our big speech at the beginning of the year was 'we can have fun without being disrespectful,'" Haller said.

There is a no-swearing policy in the Bruins' change room. The girls are mindful of what kind of music they're listening to and what kind of movies they're watching, Kevin said.

He has also made a no-rookie rule for his team to counter possible fractions among team members. Meaning, there is no distinction on their team between newbies and veteran players.

Remember, he is coaching adolescent girls.

"We do have 15, 16, 17 year old girls. We're against cliques. We want everybody to associate with everybody. That's the type of atmosphere we want to create.

"That carries onto the ice when everyone's having a good time and treating everybody as equal, and having respect for everybody – you get more wins out of it."

Haller's methods are noted by his little girl: "He's the best coach anyone could have. I'm pretty lucky," she said.

"She has to say that or she'll get in trouble," her dad replies with a laugh.

"I'm really lucky. It's the truth," Madison says quietly. She says so when her dad is turned away and can't object to his daughter's praise.

Olympic aims - Claude and Cassandra Vilgrain

Cassandra Vilgrain, 16, has Olympic aspirations, just like her pops.

Her father, Claude Vilgrain, played on the Canadian men's hockey team in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. He also played for the Vancouver Canucks and the New Jersey Devils in an 89 game NHL career.Ponytails1Is that a ponytail? You bet. This is girl’s hockey.
Photo by: CHRISTINE RAMOS

The women's gold medal win in the 2002 Winter Olympics is Salt Lake City, Utah sparked Cassandra's desire to play hockey.

Claude recalls Cassandra and her friends watching the gold medal finals: "When Canada beat the U.S., Cassandra and her friends were very excited, and she said, 'Daddy, we want to play hockey now.'"

The next year, Claude and his wife enrolled Cassandra into a hockey camp.

With pride, he remembers his daughter's progress: "She had a tough time skating with the stick and the puck and then all of a sudden, towards the end of the camp she was flying."

From such humble hockey beginnings, Cassandra is now being sought out by various colleges on both sides of the border — including invitations from Harvard and Yale.

But it all began with her father as coach.

"I never thought I was going to be into coaching at all," he said. "She joined a local team and they had no coaches. They said 'would you like to coach?' and I said, 'well, if I'm going to be there every time I may as well coach.'"

Vilgrain coached his daughter throughout her bantam career.

Now following in her father's footsteps, Cassandra is on the roster for the 2011 Under-18 Canadian National Women's team as she works toward her gold medal dreams.

And while Claude may no longer be behind the bench, he's always in the stands cheering her on.

"I miss it. But I will always have him to go to for advice. He is always there when I need him," Cassandra said

The irony - Terry Johnson and Kaela & Nicole Johnson

Terry Johnson played for the Calgary Flames when they made their first run to the Stanley Cup finals before succumbing to the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.

More importantly for him now though, is being the father to 11-year-old twins Kaela and Nicole Johnson.

He's been coaching them since their Timbit days, when they were both five-years-old.

Though he and his wife tried to switch the girls from hockey to ringette, "they expressed no interest in doing that," Terry said.

Hence, he's coached his twins for the last six years.

For a big guy, standing 6 foot 3 and 210 pounds who played defense in the NHL, this season is causing some worry — it's the first year of full contact hockey for his girls.

"The whole contact thing causes some apprehension for sure," Johnson said.

"I don't think they'll be worried about taking penalties so much as getting hurt themselves. They just don't understand what could be coming at them."

Forgive Terry — he's just being a father looking out for his girls.

"It's a blessing. It's a plus when you can enjoy doing something with your kids. If your likes are the same as your kids, it's a real plus."

 

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