Williamsville’s Hopkins selected as 2016-17 Coach of the Year
Hockey has been a way of life for Williamsville girls coach Rick Hopkins for as long as he can remember, going all the way back to when he played for his father, Dick, for eight years.
It’s that love of the game that has fueled his involvement with the sport as a coach at just about every level possible, including his work with the Amherst Youth Hockey league over the years concurrently with his duties with the combined Williamsville squad since the birth of the Western New York Girls Hockey Federation seven years ago. And having been a positive influence since day one of the league, his peers took it upon themselves to recognize Hopkins for his squad’s success this season as the 2016-17 All-Bee Girls Hockey Coach of the Year.
“It’s quite an honor and very humbling to be recognized by your peers because there’s so many outstanding coaches and good teams in our league,” said Hopkins, whose squad went 15-0-3 in regular-season play this year. “I was very blessed with a talented and very deep roster that let us win some close games. We had three lines we could roll out and strong goaltending — but when you’re a team like ours, part of being a good coach is being a good recruiter; aside from getting girls to play from three schools in the district, there are a lot who play travel too.”
Hopkins was quick to note that assistant coaches Shauna Clair and Amanda Nolan — and even his father, the team’s unofficial assistant coach — were just as instrumental to the team’s success this winter as he was. Clair, a third-year assistant coach and former player who was one of the captains for Hopkins’ inaugural team, “can relate to what the girls are going through both on and off the ice,” while Nolan, who also played the sport and has been assisting with the team since day one, works with Williamsville’s goalies.
“I’m really fortunate to have a strong assistant coaching staff, because it certainly takes more than one person to run a practice or manage a bench,” Hopkins said. “With me teaching until 3:35 every afternoon, I leaned pretty heavily on my assistants in terms of getting the girls mentally prepared to go when they got to the rink — especially if we had a game at 4. We’d always have a coaches meeting before games, whether it was texting or emailing before the game to strategize, and we had a similar setup for practices too. Practices can be at a premium, with ice time being as precious as it is, so we all worked together really well to make the most of our time.
“And my father, who’s at every game and an unofficial part of the coaching staff — some of the parents probably think he is part of the coaching staff — will tell me what we needed to do after the game,” Hopkins continued. “He had a great influence on my coaching philosophy. I’m just fortunate he’s still around at age 82 to give me advice every once in a while.”
Hopkins also gave a great deal of the credit for this year’s success — Williamsville reached the semifinals in the Section VI tournament and the finals of the Federation tournament — to the senior leadership of the squad. Hopkins noted that he “prefers to keep things simple” when it comes to the team, since so many of the squad’s players come from different travel programs that all have their own philosophies.
“Any time you have good leadership, it makes the coach’s job easier, and I had some really good senior leadership this year,” Hopkins said. “I really like to give ownership to the girls when that’s the case. I’m just fortunate enough to get to lead them. We think of it more like a democracy, and then we’ll shape things year-to-year, based on the type of girls we have. I’m just happy to get the opportunity to see these girls earn a varsity letter, and that includes all six of the other teams in the league too. We all need each other. I don’t take anything for granted since it took us six years to even get the sport started.”
Hopkins, who keeps up-to-date on the latest coaching trends both by watching internet clips and with his work with AYH, is looking forward to continuing to pass along his accumulated knowledge to players while working with Williamsville.
“I really enjoy my job and look forward to the part of the day when I can leave the office, lace up the skates and teach the girls a little bit about hockey,” Hopkins said. “I like to feel that I help prepare them for the challenges and adversity they’ll face in life in high school, college and beyond; that’s a lot of what sports are about.”