Mark Kolesar always knew he wanted to stay involved in the game of hockey, he just wasn’t sure in what capacity.
Kolesar, who achieved his dream of playing in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, has settled into a coaching role, guiding his son Mason and a group of nine-year-old players on the 9A Brandon Wheat Kings team.
"It’s been great to be able to come back and coach," Kolesar said. "My time is done and it’s time to let the kids play. And to be able to give back to the kids and help this group out is a lot of fun and we have a great group of kids."
"I always wanted to stay in touch with the hockey side of things. For me, I had enough travel and it’s the kids time now and anything I can give back and anything the kids can pick up is what’s important to me."
He’s also coaching in the city that gave him his first opportunity to play at a high level. Kolesar played three years as a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the early 1990s, amassing 62 goals and 77 assists in 183 games.
After his WHL career, he played three years in the Toronto system, making his NHL debut in 1995-96 when he played 21 games, notching two goals and two assists. Kolesar would play seven more games in the show before finishing his 10-year professional career overseas, playing in the German, British and Italian leagues.
The insight that comes with playing the game at the highest level gives Kolesar a unique perspective behind the bench. And at this early stage of player development, he said it’s all about making sure the kids are having fun and nurturing that "love for the game."
"At nine years old the kids are going to be where they are going to be on the ice," Kolesar said. "It’s about being a team and learning how to move the puck and play your position."
While in some cases the hardest part of coaching minor hockey isn’t being a coach, but dealing with unrealistic expectations from parents, Kolesar said this group understands that at this age the game is exactly that — just a game.
"We’ve got a great group of parents and their not phoning me up asking me ‘How come this isn’t happening?’ which makes a big difference," Kolesar said.
Coaching has also given him an opportunity to mentor his son Mason on the ice.
While the father-son coaching dynamic can sometimes be a tenuous relationship, Kolesar said the fact he played forward during his playing career while Mason has chosen to play net makes things easy.
"I never played goal so it’s something new to me," Kolesar said. "The easiest part is that he’s a goalie and that’s why we have coaches come out and help the goalies at practice to make it easier for them and easier for me. I get to concentrate on the forwards and defence and they help out the goalies."
At nine, the children may be young, but Kolesar said he hopes the game gives them the same type of opportunities it afforded him and said the biggest lesson is learning how to be a responsible teammate, a quality that will take you a long way in life on or off the ice.