The Kootenay Ice major midget team will have a well-seasoned local coach behind the bench for the 2011-12 season.
Nelson’s Mario DiBella has decided to pack his 20 years of running teams at every level of minor hockey and beyond to the BC Major Midget League.
“I’m excited,” DiBella says. “I think that this league is a showcase for young players. It’s a great environment for them to develop their skills instead of heading into the junior ranks. I think that people in this area don’t always see it for what it is… it’s the flagship league for 15, 16, 17-year-old aspiring hockey players.”
DiBella brings a wealth of experience and credentials to the team that brings together the players from the East and West Kootenay. The former goaltender started by coaching his five children in Nelson Minor Hockey where he travelled a few times through the levels. From novice to rep hockey, DiBella has guided hundreds of kids in Nelson through the basics.
DiBella stepped behind the bench of the Nelson Junior Leafs in the early 2000s, sharing assistant and head coach duties for three seasons.
For the last three seasons DiBella has coached female hockey where his daughter Amy is a standout. He spent two seasons with the West Kootenay Wildcats bantam team and then last season guided the Kootenay Wildcats midget team to the league championship final.
At the end of last season, former Ice coach Simon Wheeldon planted the seed with DiBella about taking over the midget program. Three weeks ago he signed on for the upcoming season.
“It was a tough decision and the decision had to wait until we as a family had decided what we were doing with our own children who are involved in hockey,” DiBella says.
Adam DiBella — who played with the Ice as a 16-year-old — has committed to Junior A with Salmon Arm. Amy DiBella will be taking her skills to the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton.
DiBella says he will not change the philosophy the Ice employed last season. In fact he says it fits well with how he coaches.
“We’re going to be the same team that Simon had,” he says. “We’re going to be hard working and a hard team to play against. We will not put ourselves in a position where we decide that we are not going to show up. We will be competitive in every game we play.
“The ultimate goal is to move on as many players as we can to higher levels of hockey.”
The Ice face many barriers not seen with midget teams from the Lower Mainland and larger areas. With Junior B hockey so big in the Kootenay, trying to convince young players not to make the jump to junior is sometimes difficult.
“Geographically there are a number of Junior B teams you compete against,” he says. “Unfortunately I see some of these aspiring young players that jump into that Junior B environment and they are playing against players that are physically four years older than they are. In many cases I have seen those 16-year-old players get limited ice time and take on roles of being something other than really what they really need to be to move into a Junior A environment.
“I think that Junior B coaches need to understand that there is room for all of us and we need to cooperate with one another.”
Joining DiBella behind the bench will be Sean Dooley, a graduate of Nelson Minor Hockey and last year’s assistant with the Junior Leafs.
“He is a young man who has come full circle,” says DiBella. “He was a player that I coached and now is a going to co-coach with me. I’m thrilled to have him on board. He is a great young man who brings passion to the rink and great knowledge.”