On any given day, 16-year-old Taylor Crook can be found at one of Penticton’s four ice surfaces, either playing goal, coaching or reffing. Or on some days, all three.
At the age of 12 that Crook decided to build his own sports complex but until he can afford it, the Grade 11 Penticton Secondary student occupies most of his time at someone else’s rinks.
“I guess it’s my first home, really,” said Crook about the time he spends at the arenas. “I started playing when I was seven, and I just love the sport. I had two options. I could play soccer instantly at a high level or I could play hockey and work my way up. I chose hockey … the most expensive sport.”
Crook’s work ethic is self-evident, not only his time between the pipes as the starting goalie for the Penticton Minor Hockey Association’s Vees midget Team 1, but in his other ice-related duties.
He started as a junior coach last season with the atom development team and this year has completed both his Level 1 and Level 2 certification courses.
Crook has refereed since he was nine.
“At first I did it because it was easy money, it was fun and it was extra ice time to work on my skating,” said Crook thinking back. “As it’s progressed through the six years I’ve done it, it’s a lot of fun, it’s nice having the control on the ice.”
However, part of the learning curve for him in his role as an official required the growth of a somewhat thicker skin.
“It’s funny because parents and coaches will yell at you and players will yell at you but I just laugh. ‘You’re not going to change my mind, so there’s no point,’” he said.
He is still deciding which aspect of the sport he wants to pursue in the future, but right now, coaching is near the top of that list.
“It’s just stepping on the ice and seeing the expressions on all the little kids’ faces. They have such a big smile and it’s such a nice feeling and it’s a lot of fun to help them get better,” said Taylor, who specializes in working with goalies. “I think having a younger coach there works better for them because I’m more down to their level and still actually playing hockey at a somewhat competitive level.”
He believes coaching is very much an individual thing, having developed his own style from a variety of sources, including his structured training and what he has learned from those who have coached him over the years.
But Crook does have one critical element in his approach which he believes is the fundamental ingredient to helping young players develop to their full potential.
“Fun. That’s how I do it, fun,” he said. “If they’re learning and not having fun it’s just drill after drill after drill. Then they’re just not working hard and putting in as much effort, so it’s about having fun too.
“From my own personal experience, I’ve had coaches that just push me and push me and push me and that works well, but honestly I’m not having fun and I just get frustrated and I think that happens to everyone.”
His current midget coach, Dan Bates, is one of his favourites. Not surprisingly, the feeling is mutual.
“I don’t think in all my years of hockey, 12 or 13 as a player, and I think this is my sixth year as a coach, have I seen anyone do what he does. I’ve seen players help with practices and do some mentoring but nothing like him,” said Bates. “He likes learning new things. He’s got that commitment. He’s respectful and he listens and if anything it’s a bit more fun because he wants to learn and bring it down to the other levels.”
He recalled a couple of special moments from the team’s recent Christmas tournament that particularly impressed him.
That included Crook twice bringing one of his young atom players out on the ice to stand with the team for the playing of the national anthem.
“We also have a younger affiliated player goalie who came in and got to play a period in one game and didn’t give up a goal. Taylor gave him the puck afterwards (Taylor played the last two periods) and said ‘here’s your first midget shutout.’ That was a pretty cool moment for that guy,” said Bates.
Crook, whose favourite netminder is Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, would eventually like to take on the role as head coach somewhere down the road.
Hoping to continue playing next season, he is looking at possibly hooking up with a junior B team in Richmond, Summerland, Kamloops or Kelowna.
While his sports complex is currently on hold — “I’m still paying back for my goalie pads” — what Taylor envisions is a centre with hockey shops, a parent-only restaurant, medical facilities and somewhere poorer families could get ice time, adding: “It’s important to give back.”