This Story Is Not About Me … But I Have To Start Somewhere …….
Most of you know about my son Michael’s connection with the game of hockey but I’m not sure that very many are aware how much hockey has been a big part of my life.
Early on I taught both my sons to skate and in 1991 just as they were just beginning to learn the game I took them to watch a very special team known as Druzhba “78” from Ukraine play a tournament in Toronto just after they had destroyed all of the competition to win the world famous Quebec International Peewee Tournament. The hockey skills of that team were extraordinary. I was fascinated with what I saw and wanted my boys to learn those skills. Being of Ukrainian descent I was able to speak with the those involved with the team and began to learn about what is known as the “Russian” method of hockey skating and skills development. Unfortunately, there was no one in Toronto at that time that was experienced to instruct in this method.
I went on to coach at every level from house league all the way to AAA midget with the Toronto Marlies of the GTHL. When I was coaching a Minor Bantam team; just before a practice, a saw a man doing do a team session and when I saw the drills he was doing I knew right away that this person was teaching the so-called “Russian” hockey skills. The man I saw was Jari Byrski and he had just opened a hockey school called SK8ON. At the first opportunity I had my son Michael attend a week-long summer camp with SK8ON. Jari fell in love with Mike because of his skating ability and skill at demonstrating drills and hired Michael right away as an instructor. Since Mike was only 14 years old, I was the one driving him to work for Jari and since his school was growing very quickly I also became an instructor with SK8ON ….. it made sense rather than just hang around for 3 hours to drive Michael home. I went on to work at SK8ON for 14 years; in the end spending up to 7 hours a day, up to 6 days a week on the ice. During that time I absorbed as much as I could about these so-called “Russian” skating and hockey skills methods and how to teach them.
While working with SK8ON, I was fortunate to teach some great kids and meet their supportive parents. As well, during this time I worked with quite a few top hockey players including a number of 1st round NHL draft picks.
Every Time I Try To Get Out They Pull Me Back In …. and …. The Gift That Keeps On Giving
I have always believed that there was nothing magical about learning hockey skills and they can be taught to anyone with even average athleticism as long as the instructor knows what he’s doing. The problem is that most of them don’t ….. you see most hockey schools are run by failed hockey players. By a failed hockey player I mean one that didn’t make it to the “big time” and therefor didn’t make the big bucks; so having done nothing but be on skates most of there lives and not knowing what else to do when there playing options have run out, they open a hockey school.
In 2009 I retired from SK8ON. I hadn’t put on skates for about 4 years when a good friend of mine; Peter Czumak, (knowing about my background in hockey) asked me to teach his young son Andrew skating and hockey skills. Andrew was just 6 years old (born in late October of 2006, he is one of the youngest in his age group) and hadn’t done much skating at all before. He was just in house league but was playing with kids that had been skating for 2 or more years. I’ve worked with Andrew on the ice for the past year and now at age 7 he will be playing at the Select A level this coming season. It’s been great being on the ice once again and seeing young Andrew develop.
Now Finally We Get To The Point Of The Story …
It turns out my friend Peter grew up with a fellow by the name of Paul Chahivec. Peter Czumak, Paul Chahivec and I are all from a Ukrainian background. To say the least Paul has led a very interesting life. His father was an accomplished athlete and pushed all of his children hard in all varieties of athletics including gymnastics and even ballet. His father was also what I call a “hard-core” – “old-school” Ukrainian …… very tough and demanding. Paul’s father was also an alcoholic and could be brutally abusive.
As a young man, Paul excelled as an athlete in many different sports and I’m certain; in part, his success was because of his demanding and hard-driving father. To this day Paul is thankful to his father especially for the opportunities in gymnastics and ballet and credits his success in his many other sporting endeavors for that training. As a result, Paul had incredible opportunities in hockey, lacrosse and gymnastics; but while his father pushed Paul to success, his abusiveness also pushed Paul to rebel.
Paul’s rebellion led to an incredible and adventurous life; a lot of it lived on a very thin edge from which a fall to the wrong side could result in disaster. Ironically, his father’s hard-driving nature not only pushed him to excel in athletics, it also taught Paul how to survive in the most difficult of situations. I know you will be amazed by Paul’s story but rather than write a lot about those adventures I urge you to read a recent article in The National Post by Dave Bindini titled “The Strange and Wonderful Life of Paul Chahivec”.
Recently, Paul and his soon to be bride Sarah were in Toronto for their wedding and I was fortunate to not only meet Paul, but to share some time on the ice with him and watch him work his magic. You see Paul was also trained in the so-called “Russian” method of skating and hockey skills. As a youngster he was trained by and a star pupil of Dr. Yasha Smuskin and later played and trained in the Russia’s KHL hockey league. This so-called “Russian” method is what I saw played many years ago by that team from Druzhba Ukraine and what I learned from Jari Byrski at SK8ON. As I said, I always believed that these skills can be taught to athletes of even average skills and what Paul has accomplished with his team gives me further proof.
Paul’s girlfriend Sarah got her teaching certificate and with openings scarce in southern Ontario, Paul and Sarah headed out where she could get a teaching position ….. first in Stanley Mission Saskatchewan and finally in Mistissini Quebec, a Cree community east of James Bay. Paul began to help coach the local hockey team the Cree Bears. The team’s record had been less than stellar …. but remember those “Russian” hockey skills …. well; being expert in them and equally important, being an expert in teaching of them, Paul went to work on his passion …. and guess what? …. last year the Cree Bears made it to the finals only to lose out in overtime. Hopefully this season they’ll go all the way and if Paul Chahivec has anything to say about it, it’s as good a done.