Nicole McAlpine was stunned to receive the phone call from Hockey Canada and BFL Canada representatives to tell her she was a Manitoba recipient of the BFL Female Coach of the Year award.
“It put me in shock, but a good shock,” says the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy (WJHA) female U15 team, who earned the provincial honour in the Community category. “I have spent so much time and energy with the girls I have been coaching that it’s humbling and gratifying to receive this award.”
McAlpine, who works for the True North Youth Foundation (TNYF) in Winnipeg, has grown as a coach alongside her team, coaching the same group of girls through U13 and U15 hockey the past four seasons.
“Watching these girls throughout the past four years has inspired me to continue to coach and has shown me they have been watching me and soaking in all the information to become more successful as players.”
The TNYF oversees the WJHA with a mission to provide underprivileged youth an opportunity to play hockey. Always mindful that her players could be dealing with struggles away from the rink, McAlpine is passionate about forging a trusting bond and providing great hockey programming.
She is also passionate about her role as an on-ice instructor for the St. James-Assiniboia Hockey Academy, part of the Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) program, which included more than 350 Grade 6-12 students during the 2019-20 school year.
Jordan Sobkowicz, the program coordinator for the St. James-Assiniboia HCSA, has taught skills alongside McAlpine on a near-daily basis during the school year. His colleague’s communication skills with players continue to impress him.
“She is the definition of a people person,” remarks Sobkowicz. “She communicates well with kids of all ages and backgrounds and can foster strong relationships right away.”
Sobkowicz adds that McAlpine exemplifies the inclusive nature of the HCSA by being equally deft at relaying helpful wisdom to a AAA player as she is teaching fundamentals to a Grade 6 student who has never picked up a hockey stick.
McAlpine says one of the tactics she employs to connect with the kids with high-performance aspirations is to compete against them in drills.
“This shows them that you also have the passion and the drive they are looking for in themselves,” explains McAlpine.
She shifts gears when working with beginners by cutting out the hockey jargon she would use with advanced players. She cultivates respect with new players by being present for one-on-one instruction. Seeing kids follow through on her instructions by succeeding in a drill brings a smile to her face.
In addition to the kids she gets to teach, McAlpine says she enjoys her HCSA work because of Sobkowicz.
“He has an excellent grasp to involve all the students and get them moving on one sheet of ice. I admire him for that, and he’s very well-worded with how he runs his practices.”
McAlpine’s work with the TNYF continues during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as she operates the foundation’s social media accounts.
She is also scouring the Internet to learn new coaching skills and methods because she says she is someone “who is never satisfied with the knowledge that I know.”