The coach says: “Get moving if you want to make a difference.”
Nearly 30 years ago, Tom Hedican played between the pipes as a goaltender with the Guelph Gryphons. He was used to taking frequent road trips to games, but today his involvement in hockey has him stick-handling what is likely the longest regular commute to work of any Guelph grad: North Bay, Ontario, to Hamburg, Germany.
After graduating from Guelph and the Gryphs, Hedican, a 1982 geography grad, spent a year playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) minor league system for Buffalo and Philadelphia before returning to school to study journalism at Canadore College. He then spent a decade working as a reporter and editor at the London Free Press.
London, a notable hockey town, provided Hedican with more than headlines. It offered him an opportunity to get his head back in the game.
“I got involved with coaching part-time at the University of Western Ontario, then with the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) as an assistant coach with the London Knights and later an associate coach with the North Bay Centennials.” He was also doing a bit of work as a consultant for pro goalies in Switzerland and Germany. “It was at some point during that time that I realized my passion was hockey and not journalism.”
He left the OHL in 2000 and has been working in Europe ever since. From October to April, he clocks tens of thousands of air miles each month flying back and forth between Germany, Switzerland and Canada. “It’s a pretty demanding schedule, but I love what I do,” he says. “I’m lucky. I work with good teams and big budgets, so they make the travelling easier.”
Over the past decade, he’s worked with teams in Lugano, Zug and Bern, which is the highest drawing team in Europe. The S.C. Bern Bears draw some 17,000 fans per game, he says. In addition, one of his former players from Lugano, Cristobel Huet, has also been making big moves since joining the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008. Huet, who was coached by Hedican for four years, is the first goalie from France to play in the NHL. Hedican also coached Ottawa Senators goal tender Alex Auld, who has also played for NHL teams in Vancouver, Florida, Phoenix and Boston.
“It’s fun being in pro hockey. You’re working in a game where there are lots of highs and lows, but it’s not a mundane job. It changes every day, so there’s that element of excitement.”
Hedican also garners great excitement from a successful fundraising campaign he launched in North Bay in 2005. For two-and-a-half weeks in December, his Coach4Food program brings him into the community where he works with up to 20 young hockey teams in exchange for donations to the North Bay Food Bank.
“I offer coaching sessions for kids based on some of the pro drills we use in Europe. They’re high-skills technical drills that the players and the coaches have never seen. The kids are excited because they’re practicing like pros for the day.”
Over the years, Hedican has been approached by people wanting to run similar programs using other sports.
“The truth is you can do it with any sport. You just have to have a hook for the kids and someone to teach them something. I always tell the kids that you don’t have to change the world; you just have to change where your feet are. Whether it’s your classroom, your home or in your city, you can make a difference. You just have to start moving.
“North Bay isn’t a wealthy city, but it’s a caring city, and helping now is probably more crucial than it has been in decades.”
Besides being a record year for the program in his hometown, Hedican was also able to share his concept with the New Jersey Devils. In partnership with the New Jersey Rockets and the New Jersey Titans, the Devils ran a successful Coach4Food event for three days in November.
The event raised 17,000 pounds and was the biggest sports-related fundraiser in the history of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, he says, adding that his involvement with that initiative led to a rather unexpected but welcome meeting.
“While in New Jersey, I got a call from Bruce Springsteen’s assistant asking my wife, Nancy Ann, and I to come to his opening night concert in Newark. With 30 minutes to show time, the couple were invited backstage to meet Springsteen, where he told him he appreciated all the great Hedican is was doing and that his Coach4Food program was inspiring. “It was surreal.”
Story by Rebecca Kendall