Evanston Junior Wildkit Hockey offers Mites the chance to play competitive, full-ice games against other programs from northern Illinois. Its teams compete in the Chicago United Hockey League that is affiliated with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).

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Respect is the Name of the Game for Coach
by posted 05/23/2015

Coach Mike with some final pre-game instructions for Mite 2 team

Respect is the Name of the Game for Coach

It’s not often that ice hockey and the Middle East mix. For Coach Mike Truskoski, however, it was the perfect combination to win the U16 Emirates Cup.

During a one-year work assignment in Abu Dhabi — he helped build an airport there — he coached the Abu Dhabi Falcons, a team that comprised kids from all over the world. Some were from Sweden and Canada, both great hockey nations, some from the United States and South America and some from the Gulf States where it was typically 110 degrees and extremely dry during the day.

“I had a great group of kids that worked hard every game and every practice on and off the ice,” said Coach Mike. “We were a group of mixed skill levels, and this group gave me a unique perspective on the abilities of players from around the world and how they can come together as one team, united, to win their first tournament together, each contributing just as much as the next, for their team and for each other. It is one of my proudest moments to be on the bench for that and a part of those kids’ lives for that moment.

Today, you can find Coach Mike helping another group of kids bond as a team as the head coach of the Spring Mite 2 team.

“At six and seven years old, hockey is about having fun,” he said. “The love of the game is not born from pressure to perform, being at the rink for hours a day or from non-stop coaching sessions. All of those can help mold great hockey players, but if kids have fun playing, watching and talking about hockey, the skills will develop.”

His own skills developed on a frozen pond down the hill from his house in Wisconsin. Coach Mike’s parents noticed from an early age that he liked to use sticks to hit anything he could, especially rocks, so they replaced the sticks with a proper hockey stick and the rocks with a puck.

He joined the Elmbrook Eagles hockey program in Brookfield, Wisc., and played travel hockey starting at the squirt level. He played for Elmbrook through bantams and transitioned to his high school program after his final bantam season. While his preference was to play defense, and he had success at that position from squirts through peewees, he switched to wing as a bantam and center in high school.

“The coaches liked my ability to take up space out front of the opposition’s net and bury rebounds along with my being able to move others out from the front of our net,” said Coach Mike.

He made the move from playing in front of the net to coaching players from the bench in 2002 when he was a coach with a travel program in Houghton, Mich. He’s been coaching every season ever since.

One word dominates his coaching philosophy and approach to hockey: respect.

“Hockey is about respect — first and foremost — hard work and fun,” Coach Mike said. “Respect for the game, your teammates, parents, coaches and your opposition are big. If you respect the game, you learn the skills and work hard to maintain them. If you respect your teammates and coaches, you are naturally tuned to listen and improve much faster than those around you. If you respect your parents — the ones who dry out your equipment, get you to practice, games and tournaments, and cheer you on at your games — you will be more inclined to work as hard as they do for you. Finally, if you play hard and respect your opposition, you will find that extra drive to beat them.”

What kids find out quickly about Coach Mike is that he’s tall — really tall — and that he hardly yells.

“Yelling only goes so far in coaching — you cannot force anyone to respect you or what you are teaching,” he said. “There is a time and place for it, but I built my coaching philosophy on respect, hard work and fun.”

He also encourages parents to come watch their kids practice or play as much as possible. He says that he always sees kids working harder and having more fun when their parents are in the stands supporting them. And the practices and games are sure-fire ways to create lasting memories.

Fun facts:

  • His parents had to carry his birth certificate with them to games and tournaments because Coach Mike was always bigger than other kids his age
  • He has a deep love for winter: from the snow and cold to the dusk that sets in around 3:30 in the afternoon and from pond hockey with friends, snowboarding down a mountain and driving through snow-covered streets
  • A slap shot rattling an end board during a game once caused a spectator to trip on a tarp covering the stadium, turning it into a temporary outdoor rink
  • In the off season, he counts down the days until tryouts
  • His favorite hockey team is the Detroit Red Wings, and his favorite player growing up was Steve Yzerman; his current favorite player is P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens
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