Emanuel Sequeira, KIJHL Communications
For a fifth straight year, the University of Jamestown Jimmies are playing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship tournament.
The Jimmies will be pursuing a Division I men’s championship in Saint Louis, Mo., this month. Ranked 15th among the 20 teams in the tournament, they feature 16 Kootenay International Junior Hockey League graduates.
The reason the Jimmies program recruits heavily from the KIJHL is easy for head coach Dean Stork.
“It’s really not about the talent. It's not about the skillset,” says Stork, a Penticton native, who played in the B.C. Hockey League for his hometown Panthers.
“It’s about the character. You look at these kids that play in the KI, they are hard workers. They want to work and they want to get better. They have that inner self-motivation. It's not an easy league to play in. There is a lot of travel involved and they are hard fought games. These kids are really motivated to get better and to get to college.
"Playing in the KI, I think does a great job in rounding out a solid all-around character built player for me. That’s how I build my team here in Jamestown.”
The Jimmies identity is built on being hard to play against. They possess some skill, but pride themselves playing a physical brand of hockey on the forecheck and in the neutral zone, and in defending hard.
KIJHL players recruited to the Jimmies have a strong defensive mindset, and have skating ability. They have a good understanding of the game because of the coaching they received at the junior level, says Stork, who loves their hunger.
“I’d rather take a kid out of the KIJHL than a kid out of Junior A because that Junior A kid is thinking he’s getting an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) deal,” he says.
“I don't want to be the second fiddle to that kid if he doesn’t get his NCAA Div 1 deal and he comes to Jamestown and he’s not happy.”
Stork, who credits the success in his hockey career to his childhood in Penticton, has been recruiting KIJHL grads for five years.
He joined the program when it started in 2015, left to coach at Miami University in NCAA Division I, then returned. He also had a coaching stint in the ECHL, where he played, spending 16 years in the league.
There are adjustments for KIJHL players entering the ACHA, but the biggest one is strength and physicality.
“They need to get stronger. They need to get bigger and that comes with maturity,” says Stork. “They are still filling out their body. An elite athlete peaks at 22-years-old.”
He added it’s working on puck protection and balance on skates. Playing against 22- and 23-year-old guys is an adjustment.
The Jimmies recruit from programs such as Chase, Revelstoke, Fernie, Kimberley, Creston Valley, Nelson, and in the past Grand Forks. The Jimmies attract KIJHL players because of Stork’s ability to help them turn pro through connections in the ECHL and Europe.
He has sent eight players to the pro level, including six last season to Europe.
Also assisting with the recruiting process are the Jimmies’ current players. Stork will ask freshmen which players they like from a list he creates.
A private school, the University of Jamestown features small class sizes of 13 to 20 students. Jamestown, North Dakota has a population of 20,000 with a large lake off campus the players can enjoy in the summer by boating and fishing. Jamestown is near Fargo and Bismark, which are about the size of Kelowna.
Because of the global pandemic, Stork says they were very fortunate to have a season considering the circumstances in the central and eastern U.S.
The Jimmies qualified for the national championship with a 14-13-4 record, which Stork says is not bad considering they dressed 16 freshmen.
“It’s been a big rebuild this year. We just continue getting better year after year with these kids,” he says.