London Jr. Knights Midget AAA team
Front row (left to right): Jimmy Sullivan (Equipment Manager), Gordie O’Dwyer, Robert White, Jake Marche, Johnny Fitzgerald, Spencer Mace. Middle row: John Pearce (Goalie Coach), Matson Micallef, Matthew Gough, Joey Stimac, Tyler Alexander, Michael Elliston, Nash Glover, Matthieu Gaudrault, Alex Bikos, Mike Juszczynski (Asst. Coach). Back row: Al Gratton (General Manager), Quinn Wenger, Jordan Daer, Josh Tidgwell, Liam Hoskins, Tristan Wilcox, Alex MacLeod, Jason Ross (Asst. Coach), Jason Glover (Head Coach). Missing from picture: Joey Studnicka and Trainers Dave Moore and Rob VanElslander
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The London Junior Knights Major Midget AAA team is unique: They’re the oldest group in the Jr. Knights’ program, and it shows in the way they carry themselves. They’re mature, and they lead by example, showing younger players what a strong work ethic, unselfish play and ‘coachability’ looks like.
“They’re avid students of the game,” says Al Gratton, the team’s manager. “They’re extremely dedicated and respectful, and they play well together as a team. And, as much as [the Alliance] is a highly-competitive league, the coaching staff always puts an emphasis on fun and instills a love for the game with the players.”
The players on the U18 team, which plays its home games on Sunday evenings at the Western Fair arena, are always working on improving their skills. Seven players are affiliated with local Junior B teams, and all team members are focused on their own roles and strengths to help the Knights be more successful on the ice.
One definite advantage the team has is a large coaching and support staff. Besides Gratton, the staff includes: Mike Juszczynski (Assistant Coach, Forwards); Jason Ross (Assistant Coach, Defencemen); John Pearce (Goalie Coach); Rob Van Eslander and Dave Moore (Trainers); Wendy Glover (Academic Pathway Planning); Brynn Gratton (Social Media); Jimmy Sullivan (Team Volunteer for 25 years!); and, of course, Head Coach Jason Glover. Besides leading the team’s on-ice efforts, Glover is invested in helping players choose paths after their Jr. Knights careers.
“More recently, [Jason] has also been serving to mentor former players after their hockey careers as they pursue coaching,” says Gratton of Glover, who has coached the game for 15 years and played professionally for a decade. “It’s important to Jason that coaches are mentored on player development best practices, following Hockey Canada’s Player Development Model.”
Current Jr. Knights players are even getting involved in coaching training (the Major Midget AAA team already has three fully-certified coaches!). Meanwhile, the program has also introduced concurrent hockey/academic pathway planning.
“It’s unique to the U18 team,” says Gratton, “since they are nearing the end of high school and many players are trying to balance making decisions in both areas.”
Contributions by Al Gratton and photo by Camera Canada