By Brandon Sudeyko
When discussing how effective a coach is, many will point to the X’s and O’s or the depth of talent that they have or the most important measuring stick… the number in the W column.
What seems to get missed in every conversation is what a coach can do for a player off the ice. Obviously a coach is around to develop talent but they have a big responsibility to develop a teenager into a young adult and an upstanding citizen. Why wouldn’t the coach have that much of an impact on a player? Between practices and games, the coach is with his team approximately 10-15 hours a week. Given the nature of the hockey schedule, that is upwards of 450+ hours which is equivalent to a Monday-Friday 9-5 job for a month
This point of how important a coach is off the ice came to light in Patrick O’Sullivan’s book, Breaking Away, in which he chronicles his Junior hockey life with an verbally and physically abusive father. The book itself is a tough read but very informative and should be on a must read list.
O’Sullivan had a prolific junior career all the way up to the OHL where he played under Don Cherry for the Mississauga Ice Dogs. O’Sullivan was the 2002 OHL and CHL Rookie of the year, He was a member of the 2004 USA Junior team that won the gold medal in Finland. O’Sullivan still holds the record for games, goals, assists and points for the Mississauga/Niagara OHL Franchise. In his professional career, he was named the 2006 AHL Rookie of the year and holds the same goals, assists and points record with the Houston Aeros franchise.
In his story, a specific chapter stands out entitled, ‘WASHKURAK’. A couple pages devoted to one man, Joe Washkurak, former Mississauga Ice Dogs assistant coach when O’Sullivan was a member of the OHL franchise, and current Mississauga Chargers head coach in the OJHL.
In the chapter, O’Sullivan points out Joe’s background as a social worker, and how he worked with families of domestic abuse. The chapter is a look back as Patrick reconnects with Joe in November of 2014, but discuss a key moment how Joe helped out O’Sullivan through the rough period in his life. The assistant coach helped him move into a new billet home, providing security and safety for the young man and just providing any help possible to keep distance between O’Sullivan and his father.
There is a particular part in the chapter that is heart breaking as a moment of hesitation occurred but seemingly clicked at the same time. O’Sullivan mentions that he doesn’t hold any of his coaches responsible for not doing enough but points out that Joe seems to always blame himself for not doing more. And that last part not only tugs at the heart strings but shows that Coaching Junior players, no matter what sport, has to be more than X’s and O’s. The mark of a great coach isn’t about how many banners are hanging in the rafters. It is taking those past experiences and using your knowledge to help mould the young players and turn them into fine young men and be that sounding board. Be that support that they need. Be that substitute parent when they are at the rink.
Joe Washkurak is a great coach who doesn’t get his due because of the W-L record that is attached to the Mississauga Chargers. He develops talent not only for the OHL, but for the CIS and NCAA. In the coaching circles he is highly regarded and when you ask players, behind all of his gestures when he is behind the bench, he truly cares for the players standing in front of him.
The players who don the Mississauga Chargers jersey are lucky to have a coach like Joe Washkurak, and after the reading of the book, they may get a strong sense of how invaluable he can be.
The Chargers have a great one, and one who is often overshadowed.