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Andy Kollar cultivating goaltender excellence at the Ice Lab

A small room filled with hockey memorabilia serves as the headquarters for Andy Kollar, the maestro behind goaltender development at hockey for all centre’s Ice Lab.
Kollar points to a picture on the wall of him clad in North Dakota goalie gear.

“That one is me,” he says.

The photo takes him back to his four years as starting goalie in NCAA Division 1 hockey with the University of North Dakota, where his team won a National Championship in 2000 and was runner-up in 2001. After a couple of years playing in the UHL, ECHL and WHA2, Kollar returned to his hometown for a job that kept him close to the sport. Since 2014 year, he’s been leading the charge of developing the next generation of goaltenders at hockey for all centre.

“Growing up, I was either playing or coaching hockey, so when I was offered the position at hockey for all centre it was a no brainer of me.”

Just outside Kollar’s office, a specialized ice surface equipped with five goalie creases provides a versatile learning environment for trainees.

“I like to start all my goalie training with creating a beneficial stance because I believe the stance serves as the foundation for all aspects of goaltending, including movement and recovery,” explains Kollar.

“Everybody’s body functions differently; it’s my job to cater my training to each person to make sure they have the most effective stance.”

Goalies of all ages and skill levels can benefit from the personalized attention and detail of the Ice Lab’s private training sessions – which can be booked individually or in packages of five or ten. In addition, more intensive multi-day camps, like the ones offered each July, also incorporate tailored dryland training at hockey for all centre’s gym, Focus Fitness.

“I train people of all walks of life, from those who want to improve for their beer league game to eight-year-olds starting off and teenagers of all levels.”

Kollar delivers personalized feedback, fostering an environment of continuous improvement and extends his ear and his advice to players who want to discuss their challenges and triumphs.

“I have a goalie who told me they wanted to play college hockey, but later on I found out he was failing math. So, I told him he had to focus more on school until he got his grades up.”

His parents were very encouraging and got him a tutor and Kollar helped stress the importance of school coming first and wanting all his players to not only achieve success in hockey, but in life.

“He worked hard and got his grades up and graduated high school and now he is playing hockey for a D1 school with close to a 4.0. Those are the moments that I am really proud of when I coach.”

While humbly acknowledging he may not be an expert in mental health, Kollar knows the pressures that come with being a netminder and remains committed to creating a safe space for his players.

“I believe it’s important to keep an open dialogue with my players if they want to discuss a game they feel went badly or if they are failing a class,” I want them to know someone cares because when I played hockey it wasn’t something people talked about.”

“When you are in your crease, mentally you’re so isolated from the team it feels like you are alone when you let in a goal or mess up, but I want to make sure players don’t feel like they are alone.”

Registration is open now for spring and summer sessions – view a complete list of Ice Lab goalie lessons, please visit hockeyforallcentre.com.

Confidence is Built on Simplicity and Effort

While athletes’ mental health and psychological performance in sports is becoming more recognized today, it is still underappreciated. There are many different techniques that aim to aid an athlete’s performance, but the thread that connects them all is confidence. From a psychological standpoint, confidence is an athlete’s thoughts, which form their beliefs, influence their behaviours, set their expectations, and create their perception. That perception becomes their reality.

Confidence also has a huge influence on perhaps one the most sought-after athletic attributes – speed. In a game situation, speed is a mix of both physical and mental ability. An athlete can have all the physical tools to produce speed, but if they are not confident in what their job is, where they are supposed to be, how the play is going to develop, or what they are capable of, they will play apprehensive and slow.

With the knowledge of what confidence is and why it’s important, the big question is: how do you get it? Since confidence is a psychological attribute, the answer may surprise some – you actually want to shut off your brain. Overthinking a scenario or second guessing yourself reduces your confidence and slows your reaction. A large part of being able to shut your brain off and perform has to do with your level of preparation. This is where practice comes in. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does help build confidence. When you physically perform a task, you create neural pathways. The more you do it, the deeper the pathways become and the more it becomes ingrained. When you carry this over to a game situation, you can perform tasks without overthinking and they become automatic, and because they feel automatic, your confidence will be high. There is a belief and expectation that we can do it, and this positively affects our behaviour, making perception a reality.

To make sure your confidence is high, put a full effort into practice. Perform drills with intensity, watch film, ask questions, and know your situational responsibilities. If you feel your confidence is low during a game, shut your brain off and focus on the simplest of tasks. These tasks will be things that require no talent: skating hard, forechecking, backchecking, and being in the correct position, which you should know from film and meetings. Do not try to do too much; keep it simple and watch your confidence begin to grow as you lean into the aspects of your game that you have practiced the most.

It is often the simplest things that make the biggest difference. That’s not to say they are easy. Putting a full effort into practice isn’t always easy, but it is simple. Watching film and paying attention in meetings isn’t always easy either, but it is simple. These all require effort, and the good news is that effort is one of the few things that is one hundred percent under your control at all times.

Confidence is key to your performance. Build it and maintain it by doing the little things right.

Until next time,
Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen

This article was originally published in Game On – Manitoba’s hockey community magazine. 

Be an Athlete

There has been an overemphasis placed on specialization for youth in sports lately. This is caused by a trickle-down effect from the pros. Everyone wants to know what the pros do, and with all the different media avenues available, seeing what they do has never been easier. The problem is that they are at the age and point in their careers that specialization is beneficial for them, but young athletes are not.

Specializing as an athlete at a young age is the equivalent of building a nice house on a poor foundation. In order to specialize in a sport or a skill set within a sport, you need access to a set of foundational skills. These foundational skills are developed through exposing yourself to different situations which comes from playing different sports.

There is a strong connection between your mind and your body. When you perform a skill or movement for the first time, a neural pathway is developed. This allows you to perform that movement again more efficiently in the future. The prime ages when youth develop a lot of their athletic attributes like balance, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and proprioception is during the early teens. This is because at this age, the brain is gong through a process called myelination. Myelination is a maturing process of the brain where neurons communicate faster, more efficiently, and in a more coordinated fashion that allows the brain to become more integrated. Simply put, this is a prime time to develop athletic skills and attributes.

Unfortunately, sports have changed so much that these are the ages that athletes are starting to specialize in one sport, which only exposes them to the stimulus found in that particular sport. In essence, it is hindering athletic development. A much better option would be to play as many sports as possible during the early teenage years to widen your athletic foundation. With a more comprehensive athletic base, you can increase your ability to specialize in your given sport as you get older.

Let’s not forget that there are plenty of other benefits to playing multiple sports in your early teenage years, including expanding your social and networking circles and opening yourself up to different experiences. The truth is that the majority of athletes will never play their sport professionally, and the opportunities for young athletes to experience different sports shrinks as they get older. Take advantage of the opportunity while you can – there is plenty of time to specialize as you get older. And when that time comes, the better overall athlete you are, the better you will be able to specialize.

Don’t just be a football or soccer or basketball or hockey player. Be an athlete!

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen

JHD Coach Himpe proud to participate in Hockey Can’t Stop Tour

written by Mitchell Clinton

Jets Hockey Development On-ice Instructor Devin Himpe didn’t have a front row seat to the Hockey Can’t Stop tour finale between the Ukraine U25 national team and the University of Manitoba Bisons. He actually had a better one.

The 34-year-old was on the Bisons’ bench for the memorable night, one that he says will stand out in his mind forever.

“I’ll remember that night for a long time,” he said. “Everything from the anthems, to the reason the game was taking place, to even just coaching at Canada Life Centre, it’s something that will always stand out for me.”

The product of Dauphin, MB has been a full-time instructor with Jets Hockey Development at hockey for all centre for several years and – as if that’s not enough hockey – he’s also been an assistant coach with the Bisons for the last eight seasons.

So combining his love of the game with the opportunity to be part of a special evening, and getting to take his coaching skills from hockey for all centre to Canada Life Centre was something he couldn’t wait to be part of.

On top of those two things, there is also a little bit of Ukrainian heritage in Himpe’s family, as well as his wife Tara’s.

For a seven-year run in his high school days and well into his time as a student at the University of Manitoba, Himpe stayed involved with Canada’s National Ukrainian Festival, held annually just outside of Dauphin.

“My mom was a big part for a few years in helping to run the National Ukrainian Festival,” he said. “Being able to see the culture on that side of it – the dancing, the singing, and a lot of Ukrainian people coming together, and how amazing those people were – I knew it was going to translate into this game as well.”

The Bisons coaching staff – head coach Mike Sirant, Himpe, and fellow assistant coach Ryan Bonni – started hearing about the tour in late October.

“We definitely wanted to be part of it and get on it pretty quick. Mike decided to talk with Mark Chipman and discuss getting True North involved,” said Himpe. “For myself, working for True North through Jets Hockey Development and hockey for all centre, I was really excited to be able to come to Canada Life Centre, have the game be here, and have the practices be here. It was exciting.”

The night was everything the players, and Himpe, could have hoped for. As both a minor hockey development coach with Jets Hockey Development and as a university hockey coach, Himpe regularly gets to see the passion Manitobans have for all levels of hockey. But the nearly 8,000 fans that filled the lower bowl and the atmosphere they created is something that he won’t soon forget.

The final score wasn’t what Himpe and the Bisons were looking for, as Ukraine earned a 5-1 victory – their first on the Hockey Can’t Stop Tour after losses to the University of Calgary, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

But as Sirant put it after the game, this matchup was always about more than hockey, and he felt the nearly 8,000 in attendance (including almost 4,000 Ukrainian refugees), knew that as well.

“We talked about that in the dressing room. Our players can feel really good about what they contributed to making this game happen,” said Sirant. “So many people are going to benefit from this, not only the Ukraine team, but also people in Ukraine from the humanitarian aid that will be derived from this game.

“To play a small role in hosting this event had special meaning for me, to know that people in Ukraine were going to benefit, and this hockey team – Ukraine’s hockey team – was going to benefit from it.”

Not unlike his role with Jets Hockey Development – which is dedicated to providing every program participant the very best opportunity to develop as a hockey player and as a person – there was development both on and off the ice for the players, coaches, and staff on the Ukrainian squad as well on the Bisons team.

On the ice, the main purpose for the Ukrainian team was to face university level competition ahead of the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games, held in Lake Placid from January 12 – 22, 2023 – an event Himpe attended overseas in 2019 with Team Canada.

“It’s probably the closest thing to an Olympics that you can get into,” he recalled. “You’re there with every other athlete – downhill skiers, curlers, snowboarders, bandy players, hockey players, male, female – it’s everybody.

“There is an athlete village, you’re eating with other countries, you’re carrying your phone around with Google Translate a lot because sometimes you don’t know what they’re saying – and they don’t know what you’re saying. It was a very cool experience.”

Off the ice, it was about showing players and fans – including the nearly 4,000 Ukrainian refugees in the stands in downtown Winnipeg – that their country is still fighting even as the war continues, and that people all the way over in Canada care for them and want to support them.

Thanks to the efforts of so many people, including Himpe – mission accomplished.

Relative Strength

In the past issue, we discussed bilateral maximal strength and some foundational exercises and protocols to train it. An equally important part of an athlete’s strength base is their relative strength. Relative strength is defined as the amount of force an athlete can produce in relation to their body weight. In an athletic sense, I like to expand that definition a little further to also include how well an athlete can move or propel their own body. The number one tool an athlete has available to them in any sport is their body. If they can move their body more efficiently and effectively than someone they are competing against, they have a higher probability of being successful.

For athletes to develop and maintain relative strength, they should always incorporate an element of body weight training in their programs. Body weight training is simply doing exercises performed with your own body weight. It is an integral part of an athlete’s training foundation, as it is usually the first thing that an athlete is exposed to when they initially start training. Effective body weight training helps set the foundation for exercise technique by promoting alignment and stability under safe loading parameters – the athlete’s own body weight.

These exercises are often seen as novice or beginner exercises that people progress away from as they become more experienced in the gym, but they should always remain a staple no matter how advanced an athlete is. There are many ways to progress the body weight exercise with the development of the athlete. Variables such as sets, reps, tempos, exercise variations, exercise pairings, and exercise sequencing can provide a limitless amount of potential in body weight training. The experience of the athlete and where an athlete is in their training cycle will help determine how to adjust the variables to keep the body weight training challenging and relative to the goal of the program.

Some great examples of body weight exercises that regularly show up in our athlete’s programs in some way or another are push-ups, pull-ups, supine rows, planks, squats, lunges, hops, plyometrics, and sprints.

Remember: being strong is great, but for athletes, that is not enough. Athletes need to be strong and must be able to move as well. The best way to become better at moving your body is to practice moving your body. A component of this is our relative strength, which can be developed through lifting weights and effective body weight training.

Until next time,

Strength, Courage, Hustle, Commitment

AJ Zeglen

This article was first published in Game On – Manitoba’s hockey community magazine.