by Matt Gajtka
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The youth hockey schedule can be unforgiving, but in the minds of those in charge of the four BK Selects boys teams, travel and competition can’t get in the way of the program’s overall mission.
Just. Get. Good.
That’s the mantra espoused by Director of Boys Hockey Chris Collins, who stepped aside from the 15O head coaching position over the summer to put his sole focus on the overall development of BK Selects players. Taking the 10,000-foot view has been a way of life for Collins, whose family has made a vocation out of helping hockey players get the most of their abilities.
“Individual development is so important,” Collins said. “That’s the biggest thing we want to build. And that’s the next step for our program.”
Collins spoke on the subject on a late-October morning, just after the BK Selects boys squads had completed an eight-week gauntlet of out-of-state tournaments and showcases to begin the 2022-23 season.
As November began, all four boys teams were ranked in the top 15 nationally. The stretch has been unquestionably fruitful from a competitive standpoint. But, the primary goal of BK Selects is to lift the development tide for all the individual boats in its harbor, so the middle portion of the season provides a welcome opportunity to drill down on skill.
And as an added benefit, coaches have an abundance of game tape to examine, making the identification of strengths and weaknesses a lot easier than if simply relying on the low-pressure setting of a practice or training session.
“We have a lot of film and different things to work on,” Collins said. “You have eight coaches, four head coaches and four assistants, and their job is really to build a team, build a locker room. All the coaches sit back and reevaluate what happened, what went right and what went wrong.
“We put together plans on the individual side and the team side. Each player has things they need to work on, but we can’t tell a lot of it (early in the season) because we haven’t seen everyone play as much as we might want to.”
It turns out, though, that the word ‘play’ has multiple definitions.
There’s the play that occurs between whistles and buzzers, with spectators and officials and coaches all bearing witness and influence in their own ways.
Then there’s the play that evokes childhood. Not necessarily careless, but certainly more carefree, with creative solutions to problems required, and the pursuit of fun ruling the day.
In the ideal development scenario for BK Selects, the second type of play fuels and enriches the first type, ultimately creating players more adaptable to the controlled chaos of competition. And that’s where the Collins family enters the picture, with their player-development programs at the Evolve training center in Fairport serving a key role in the student-athletes’ hockey curriculum.
The BK Selects’ regular training sessions at Evolve revolve around a modified rink — roughly three-quarters the size of a regulation North American surface — in addition to a similarly-sized turf field for dry-land training. The entire complex is meant to mimic the cozy, spartan atmosphere of a backyard rink.
According to longtime youth sports professional Glenn Collins, the father of Evolve co-founders Chris and Greg, the subtle differences in atmosphere have a way of putting all involved in a more creative mindset.
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“The (ice rink) is big enough that you could play a cross-ice mite game on there,” Glenn Collins said, “But it’s the perfect size for a 3-on-3 game for the older guys. The parents are even more relaxed, too. It’s a perfect arrangement for everyone.”
A weekly trip to Evolve for each BK Selects team includes plenty of competition, both external and internal. Of course, no one wants to be the slowest through the obstacle course, or the one who’s not getting more proficient at a certain skill.
Former BK Selects 18U captain Jack Henry — a Yale University commit who was part of the program’s first graduating boys senior class — said the skill work he put in while in Rochester has helped him get up to speed with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Cranbrook Bucks this season.
“I believe competition is the arguably the most important factor when it comes to training and practice,” Henry said via phone. “It does nothing but make you and others better. There’s no better way to get yourself game-ready than to compete like you would in a game anytime you’re on the ice.
“I’m also a big believer in having fun and enjoying what you do. It makes the process even more enjoyable that way. You’ll make memories that’ll last a lifetime.”
To that point, there’s always an effort at Evolve to keep the competitive play as constructive as possible. A state-of-the-art music system helps instill a fun-focused, positive atmosphere, but so does the overall mindset of the Collinses. Greg’s background in coaching youth hockey — and his recent appointment as BK Selects 14U head coach — also adds to the focus on building a foundation based on the origins of the sport.
“This all started a few years ago, when my brother and I retired (from pro hockey) and moved home,” said Chris Collins. “We sat down and asked my father why we made it. (Evolve) is us re-creating what made us successful. This is like a glorified backyard rink that so many NHLers talk about growing up on. The idea is for kids to fall in love with hockey.”
That goes for any Rochester-area youngster who wants to pick up the sport, as the programs at Evolve — from Learn To Play on up — are available to the public. But when you combine the principles of Evolve with the caliber of hockey athlete who attends Bishop Kearney, elite potential is the result.
“When we started BK Selects, the girls teams had been going for a few years, but the boys didn’t have a brand,” Chris Collins said. “So we sold the players and their families on Rochester hockey, and part of that is the training center. They fell in love with that. It’s a really important part of BK and our lifeblood.
“That differentiates BK over everyone else. What better resource to have? That’s the value BK brings to the city. You’re going to see a big growth in Rochester hockey because of it.”
Glenn Collins said there’s always the temptation in youth sports to make things more structured, regimented and results-driven, but his longtime aim has been to push back against that. He said he’s grateful to have the trust of BK Selects leadership in order to partner with the program.
Fittingly, it all started on the Collinses’ own backyard rink nearly 40 years ago, when Glenn wanted to provide some unstructured ice time for Chris, Greg and their sister Kelly, who went on to play college hockey and also works at Evolve.
“I would get all the crap I could find in the garage and create obstacle courses in the backyard,” Glenn said, noting that his colleague Mike Callahan’s son Ryan (you probably recognize the name) would occasionally partake in the al fresco fun, among others.
“It’s been almost 20 years now since we started it,” Glenn continued, “but I wanted to replicate what we used to do for the kids in the backyard at a facility like this. We’ve fine-tuned the program over the years. The stuff that we do works. Once they get the hang of it, they have a blast. It’s the ability to bring that love of the game back to the game for these kids.”
Glenn notes that physical training is only one aspect of what Evolve does. Echoing the words of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, character development is the ultimate aim, and that requires focus on the mental aspects of sport — from preparation to self-evaluation to mindset during games.
The best part for BK Selects is this approach seems to help connect the dots for the student-athletes who make their way through the program.
“The skills and habits that were constantly preached at BK are all useful at the next level,” Henry said. “From minor details in footwork to having the attention to detail when it comes to systems, being sharp makes the game easier.
“BK built a foundation for me and set me up for success.”
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.