Carmen Stark becomes so dazzled when a kid she’s coaching pulls off a slick stickhandling maneuver that she races home to replicate the move herself.
“I learn it so I could come out to practice the following week, and once I get it the kids’ eyes light up and go, ‘Wow!’”
This little anecdote offers a significant clue why the Osoyoos, B.C., resident has spent 12 years as a volunteer coach for the Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) at Osoyoos Elementary School – she is deeply passionate about the game of hockey.
Stark first stepped on the ice to coach Grade 3-7 students when her daughter Faith joined the HCSA in Grade 3. By the time Faith graduated from the program – she moved to Wilcox, Sask., to play with the Notre Dame Hounds in 2018-19 – Stark was eager to keep assisting the program.
The openness to embrace kids of all talent levels – a hallmark quality of all HCSA program – was attractive to Stark from the start.
“There are kids who are skilled, and there are kids who have never been on the ice before,” she says. “Like this year, we had a kid named Christian who had never been on the ice before. He was so eager. By the time Christmas came, he was flying out there. To me, the most amazing part of the program is to teach a kid like that to skate fast in a short amount of time.”
Ryan Miller, the coordinator for the Osoyoos HCSA since 2012, says Stark provided mentorship that helped him become comfortable leading the program. They have now been collaborating for nearly eight years.
“She’s such a great person, very positive and outgoing,” remarks Miller. “As we are coaching, she is watching kids, taking them aside to give them a couple of pointers and then putting them out there to let them try.”
Miller also admires how Stark always arrives at every ice session at Sun Bowl Arena with an outlook to have fun.
“Sometimes, you could show up at the rink in the afternoon, and a lot of other stuff could have happened [that day]. You could be a little grumpy, but she is there to settle me down and say, ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re at the rink. How lucky are you to be at the rink?”’
Stark’s popularity with the students has led to invitations through the school year to come and watch their minor hockey games every weekend, and the coach does her best to oblige each of those requests. The 45-year-old is a presence in the small town of just over 5,000 – in addition to her hockey duties, she routinely curls and plays softball. She also managed a local vineyard for years.
Stark is keeping her hockey appetite satisfied during the COVID-19 pandemic by staying apprised of the latest news and practicing her toe drags. She is looking forward to Year 13 of volunteering and beyond.
“Every year, I get to meet new kids, but it is hard to see a group of kids you had for five years grow and move on. Every year the past few years, I said I was going to retire, but then I have a group start again, and you have got to follow them through until they get to Grade 7. I keep saying that every year.
“I’m going to keep doing it until I can’t skate anymore, I guess.”