Local hockey still thriving in spite of national scandal, say former NHL players now coaching kids


On a weekend morning, former NHL players Dwight and DJ King chase tiny skaters in a sport of freeze tag, as squeals of laughter echo by means of the world at Flying Dust First Nation, 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

The King brothers sprinkle in some stickhandling and taking pictures drills whereas additionally scooping up kids who felt the urge to make a fast snow angel. 

Far away from the celebrity and cash of skilled hockey, the Kings, who’re Métis, run hockey camps in Indigenous communities and volunteer as coaches for 4 to six-year-olds, together with their sons, Drew and George.

“We have three guidelines after we go on the ice. We’re going to work arduous, we’ll attempt our greatest and we’ll have enjoyable,” mentioned 38-year-old DJ King, who performed six seasons in the NHL for the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals.

As a coach, former NHL participant DJ King says he has three guidelines for kids: work arduous, attempt your greatest and have enjoyable. (Bonnie Allen/CBC )

At six ft three inches tall, DJ was often called a tricky enforcer by means of his junior hockey days and NHL profession. Today, he enforces site visitors guidelines in a sport of “Red mild, inexperienced mild” and throws in some purple lights — to cue dancing — a lot to the delight of youngsters.

Hockey season is underway in rinks throughout Canada after months of scrutiny and scandals associated to Hockey Canada’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations. The federal sports activities minister mentioned there’s a “systemic downside” of sexual violence and toxic masculinity in Canada’s hockey tradition that Hockey Canada has failed to vary. 

Public outcry has prompted headlines that assert Canadians’ love of hockey has wavered.

But that is actually not the case right here.

A love for the sport

Retired NHL participant Dwight King runs hockey abilities camps along with his brother and volunteers as a coach for the Meadow Lake Minor Hockey Association. (Don Somers/CBC)

Enrolment in the under-7 (U7) division is up even larger than earlier than the pandemic in this northern Saskatchewan group, which incorporates Flying Dust First Nation and Meadow Lake, a metropolis of 5,300 folks.

“So that reveals there’s still a need and still a love for the sport, and kids present up and still need to work arduous, smile and have enjoyable, and that is the essential half,” mentioned Dwight King, 33, who gained Stanley Cup championships with the L.A. Kings in 2012 and 2014. 

“I see grassroots hockey still thriving and still a giant half of Canadian tradition.” 

Dwight King of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates with the Stanley Cup after the Kings gained 3-2 in double extra time towards the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup ultimate on the Staples Center on June 13, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Getty Images)

DJ’s son, Drew, and Dwight’s son, George, say they love hockey. Their favorite players? Their dads, of course.

Unwavering dedication

The King household’s love for hockey is deep and their dedication is unwavering.

Dwight says his mother and father, Dwayne and Donna, hauled 4 kids to minor hockey throughout lengthy, chilly winters. He and DJ rose by means of the ranks to play in the NHL, whereas their sisters, Dayna King and Danene Kopperud, performed for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies ladies’s hockey crew.

“That was our childhood. That’s what I bear in mind, is simply all the time being on the rink,” mentioned Kopperud, 36, whereas watching her four-year-old daughter’s hockey follow. Kopperud mentioned enjoying hockey taught her precious life classes and he or she needs the identical for her daughter, nieces and nephews.

“Hockey has all the time been a component of our life and it is so good to cross it on to the subsequent era.”

Dwight King’s son, George, left, and DJ King’s son, Drew, say their favorite hockey players are their dads. (Don Somers/CBC)

Keep the concentrate on the kids

Dwight acknowledges that there is “darkish stuff” that must be handled associated to elite hockey tradition and sexual assault allegations, and he and DJ each applaud any efforts to repair systemic points.

“First and foremost, it is good that [Hockey Canada] is cleansing up their errors and what has been pushed to the aspect,” mentioned Dwight.

It will not distract the King brothers, although, who say their focus is “native” and dealing with kids.

“I’m not downplaying it,” mentioned DJ. “But if a bit of child would not need to be concerned in the massive image, you retain ’em out of it and also you attempt to make the modifications earlier than they even need to learn about it, proper?”

WATCH | Former NHLers return house to Sask. to teach kids: 

Former NHLers convey the love of hockey to Meadow Lake, Sask., kids

Hockey Canada could also be embroiled in scandal, however in many native arenas kids still like to play the national sport. In one group in northern Saskatchewan, a pair of coaching brothers and former NHL players are nurturing the love of the sport for native kids.

“I feel I’m doing my half. I’m not the one one. It’s one of these issues the place dangerous information all the time travels faster than excellent news,” added DJ. “There’s so many rinks identical to this one throughout Saskatchewan, throughout Canada, the place there’s a lot constructive.”

As follow wraps up, the kids kneel at centre ice for a chat with their coaches. Dwight leans on his stick and tells the kids he desires to ask them some questions.

“Did we now have enjoyable at the moment?”

The players scream: “Yeah!”

“Did we work arduous?” “Yeah!”

“Did we pay attention? “Yeah!”

DJ King leads minor hockey players by means of skating drills on a Saturday morning at Flying Dust First Nation. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

For the Kings, their focus is household, group and their love of the sport and for his or her kids.

Before they exit the ice, the small players elevate their sticks and shout: “One, two, three, hockey is the very best.”


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