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Vachon named Jr. Kings’ GM as program transitions

 

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Over the last couple of years, the Los Angeles Kings have put forth a renewed and noticeable commitment towards expanding and developing the local youth hockey segment.

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That pledge took another significant step forward recently as the NHL team announced it, along with El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center (TSC) – the official training facility of the Kings – will now operate the Los Angeles Jr. Kings program.

The news broke to Jr. Kings membership at the club’s Annual General Meeting, which was held on Aug. 25 at TSC and included a presentation from the Kings’ president of business operations and alternate governor Luc Robitaille – a member of the Jr. Kings’ newly-formed Executive Committee – and the introduction of Nick Vachon as the organization’s general manager.

A seasoned coach within the Jr. Kings’ program – he’ll lead the club’s Pee Wee AAA2 team and assist the Midget 18U and 16U AAA squads this season – Vachon will oversee the hockey operations and player development structure of the Jr. Kings with the guidance and support of the two-time Stanley Cup champions.

For Vachon, who for the past 15 years has owned and operated his own video production company, the chance to shift gears, professionally, made perfect sense all things considered.

“I was looking for something new and wanted to get back into hockey fulltime, so for the last year I’ve been getting more involved with the older (Jr. Kings) teams in addition to our (2005 Pee Wee AAA2 team),” he said. “I was really enjoying coaching and being at the rink more and involved with more teams, and when this opportunity popped up I thought it was perfect timing.”

Born in Montreal, Vachon played two years of NCAA Division I hockey at Boston University before skating two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks.

The son of Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Rogie Vachon (Rogie will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November), Nick then enjoyed a five-year professional career playing in the American Hockey League, International Hockey League and ECHL. He also dressed one NHL game with the New York Islanders during the 1996-97 season.

Robitaille, for one, is nothing but certain Vachon, who’s been affiliated with the Jr. Kings since 2002, is the right guy for the job.

“Nick’s experience and passion for the game are tremendous assets, and his coaching and teaching expertise will go a long ways as we continue to grow and enhance the Jr. Kings organization from a player development standpoint,” said Robitaille. “He has an outstanding reputation in the local hockey community and I have no doubt he, along with all of the other coaches in the program, will help the club reach new levels, on and off the ice.”

Vachon’s new role will concentrate on communicating and working directly with every coach within the Jr. Kings program in an effort to map out a proper and realistic developmental blueprint for each of its teams and players.

“We’re going to have a customized plan of what the Mite-level kid is going to need to work on and accomplish before they get to Squirts, and with that help guide our coaches as it relates to ideas and ways to run their practices to make sure those expectations are being met,” said Vachon. “And if we can execute that plan – again, tailored specifically to each age group and team – hopefully we’ll have more kids ready for the next level the following year.”

And delivering a clear, positive line of communication to the club’s coaches is what will ultimately dictate success in terms of architecting a healthy player development model, according to Vachon.

“We by far have the best coaches around,” he said. “They have so much knowledge, and if we can create a consistent message at every level, we’re going to help more players progress through the system so they understand the right things they need to focus on – and it’s not always being the top scorer.

“It’s not always about being the top player; it’s about your attitude and how you think in terms of being an athlete and, ultimately, a good person. It’s about being a team-guy, a hard-worker – things like that, and we’re going to create consistency as it relates to what’s being said and preached and I think that will go a long ways.”

Vachon believes it’s building that foundation of consistency – especially on the coaching front – that will pay dividends down the road for Jr. Kings players and their families.

“We want to stress similar philosophies and teaching methods where, if a player has a chance to move on to the next level, especially when they can jump into the higher levels like junior hockey, those coaches are like, ‘Wow, this guy has all the habits already. This is a hockey player,’” said Vachon.

“Again, it’s not being the No. 1 scorer in the nation; there’s more to it. And a lot of (our coaches) already have that philosophy in place, but we’re going make it more transparent and more status-quo.”

Given his recent professional background, it’s no surprise Vachon is bullish on mentoring players through video analysis and review. That component will also be enhanced in his role as GM.

“Kids are visual learners, so we as coaches over the last year have been really lucky being able to take advantage of our Education Center (which is located inside TSC and includes a video screen), and we’re going to utilize that even more.

“Last year, most of our coaches were using it by the end of the year – and not just the older guys, but the younger kids, too. And they love it, because they get to see themselves – see what they’re doing right and what they need to improve upon – and the coaches can talk to them in a calm, constructive atmosphere.

“And we’re going to integrate more tools and resources for the coaches to pull from, so when they go up there (to the Education Center), it’s going to be easy for them to show (video) clips; we’re going to have a lot of different tools that are going to make things easier for them.

“And they’re all into it,” Vachon said of the Jr. Kings’ coaches. “They’re talking a lot to each other and helping each other out and they’re looking for different drills and watching each other’s practices, so it’s really cool and that’s what we want to continue to grow on an even larger scale.”

The other members of the Jr. Kings’ new Executive Committee include: Rob Blake (the Kings’ vice president and assistant general manager); Mason Donley (the Kings’ vice president of ticket sales and service); Chris Crotty (the Kings’ director of hockey development); Brad Berman (president of American Skating Entertainment Centers, which owns and operates TSC); Brad Sholl (general manager of TSC); and Steve Yovetich (current president of the Jr. Kings).

Vachon firmly believes the Kings’ proactive involvement in the Jr. Kings program will be a game-changer when it comes to elevating local youth hockey at all levels.

“They’re fully-invested,” he said. “They want to be a part of the day-to-day operations, they want to be a part of the decision-making process in certain areas and obviously they have a lot resources that can help us, and we’re just starting to pass that along to our coaches and families.

“They want to grow the game. They want to help our club, but ultimately they want to really develop more hockey throughout Southern California.”

Kelly Sorensen, who will continue to serve as the Jr. Kings’ executive director, is nothing but enthusiastic about what the transition represents for the program, both on and off the ice.

“It’s exciting to say the least,” said Sorensen. “And the Kings’ added support won’t just benefit our program, but youth hockey across region which is even more encouraging.”

– Brian McDonough