Jason Knight is coach, teacher, father and all-round interesting guy. In fact, he’s been one of the most important mentors I’ve had in my life - a man who taught me as much about the game as he did about how to teach it.
“Surround yourself with people who give you energy instead of people who take it away.” Knighter gave me that advice almost ten years ago, and I’ve done my best to follow it ever since.
And you know what? It works. Aside from being a goaltender coach, Jason is a student of the game.
He’s also a student of life. I was able to catch up with my old friend from Edmonton to help us celebrate goalie week here at the club.
Kelvin: It’s great to hear your voice man! Tell me, what do you remember from your minor hockey career as a kid growing up in Peace River and Morinville?
Jason: It was my life, it was a way to get through through the school day Monday to Friday. Even as you ask me I remember vividly, going thorough my day, my dad and I going to the rink, I can still see my little blue duffel bag the first time I played goal. It brings me back to how much I love the game
Minor hockey isn’t like it used to be, the pureness is gone. Some parents live through their kids, everyone thinks their kid is going to the show so it puts a bad taste in my mouth. We all end up playing shinny on Wednesday nights, it’s just a matter of when we arrive.
Goaltending is so different these days with the amount of training available. How did you develop your game?
Only having on practice a week, it was tough. I bumped into a friend of the family ten years ago and he was asking me what I was doing - long story short, he said he knew I’d play junior hockey because he’d come home every day and I’d be standing under the light in his driveway letting people shoot balls at me. I used to wear heavy snowmobiling mitts and everything else was cold, that’s why I could handle the puck as a goalie, my hands were the only thing that was warm.
Sure it wasn’t refined, it was the late 80’s, but in my time you just did it, you were told to stand up. The goalie coach when I played in Saskatoon, he’s the mayor now, he would yell at me for going down, he was just awful, never said a nice thing to me. But I honestly think when we were kids it was just the passion for the game. We didn’t get to watch a lot of hockey on TV, but when I would I’d watch Andy Moog and it was just always in my mind to be a goalie. When I was in school, even though I’m a teacher now I wasn’t the best student back then. I didn’t reach my dream of playing in the NHL but I loved it all the same. And it made me the person I am today, taking that passion and playing.
Back then it the unstructured pureness of the game was what I lived for. When I play Wednesday nights there’s no refs, there’s a mix of players and it’s just fun.
What are the challenges you faced away from the rink in minor hockey?
The biggest thing for me was the first time we moved to a small town, I wanted to be back home in Peace River. I remember my uncle calling the house, my dad was still at work, and he asked me if I was going to play hockey the coming year, and I said I didn’t think so. I was in grade 4 and I was so overwhelmed. I hung up the phone thinking of course I’m going to play.
You had a tough time adjusting to new surroundings. Lots of our kids in Vancouver have to go through that, moving around.
But hockey helped. The funny thing was that in Peace River I lived four doors down from the rink. I was a rink rat. I would just go hang out at the rink. I’d go to the outdoor rink, and in Morinville we lived three blocks from the rink. The biggest challenges for me as a kid just starting minor hockey, I was a shy kid. It was tough being in a new place, but hockey’s given me a lot in life. The friendships I ended up gaining, it was easy to make friends in hockey. I didn’t see a lot of challenges in hockey specifically, my dad loved it and was passionate and he was a pretty successful goalie. So hockey wasn’t the problem.
Everything I’ve done in my life is though hockey. I went to school to play hockey, got my first teaching job and met my wife through hockey. There’s a sad side of hockey, there are dark times playing junior hockey being away from home. Some kids don’t deal with it all that well.
When you were young did you think you were going to play junior or college hockey?
I played in the AJHL at 17, and then went to Saskatoon in the WHL at 18. It’s funny, we had a junior B team in town, I remember watching them and thinking I wanted to play for them. One of my buddy’s, his dad was the coach and he encouraged us to play for the New Westminster Bruins or in Medicine Hat and that’s when it started. There was no internet back then, so that’s where I started learning about these hockey towns. In peewee hockey I thought I was good but my dad was the coach so I didn’t really know. My first coach who wasn’t my dad, he got the ball rolling and made me believe I could play somewhere.
Back in Edmonton you talked often about your love for the game. Why do we love hockey so much even when we’re not playing any more?
For me it goes back to being a kid and feeling that passion, that exhilaration when you make a save. I still get that feeling these days, it’s just different. My first two strides out on the ice on Wednesday nights, it’s one of the few places in this world I feel comfortable and happy. No matter what’s going on.
In that moment, those few strides, I’m not a dad or a husband or a teacher, I revert back to that time when it was just me and hockey, and I feel like I’m complete.
Make sure you check back on Friday for part 2 of my interview with Knighter where we get into the lifelong personal effects hockey has on us.
"I think you deal with adversity when you’re older and out of hockey because when it happens in hockey it’s personal. It’s your identity."