Bob Gergerich, President, IHC Hockey, Inc (June 16, 2011):
First, can you tell readers how the school got started and who you serve?
I started operating hockey clinics in the summer during my senior year of high school in a half sized rink in Bridgeville. I attended several hockey schools and always had an interest in teaching. In 1983, I came up with the name “ International Hockey College”.
Our official name now is IHC Hockey, Inc. as we have diversified over the years. Although we still operate hockey schools under the name of International Hockey College for players 5 years of age to adults, we also have tournament teams, give private lessons and schools, as well as advise and represent players under our IHC Hockey Management division.
Who are some of the better-known players that have gone through your program over the years?
Two local players that have attended many of our schools, and later became instructors at our schools as well, are R.J. Umberger of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Matt Bartkowski of the Boston Bruins.
Also, ex-Penguins Billy Thomas and Nate Guenin have attended our schools. Bobby Ryan, who is a star with the Anaheim Ducks, attended our schools in New Jersey. Sasha Lakovic (played with several NHL teams) attended our programs in Niagara Falls. There have been several other players who played in the NHL and/or AHL that have gone through our programs over the years.
Do players often come back to the program once they enter the NHL/NHL affiliates to participate or help teach?
They have not but they are always welcome to. I work with some of the pro players individually though.
We are an independent self funded business and we get absolutely no support or help from the Penguins or any other leagues or teams.
What do you find are the skill-sets young players need to work on most – and what techniques do you use to help them improve?
Stick handling has always been called “the lost art”. Everyone needs to work on stick handling but it has improved over the years in the older players. Stick handling is your foundation to all your puck skills (passing & shooting).
And of course, you always have to work on your skating. Skating is a skill that can always be improved upon – and is so important to the hockey player.
How do you decide what position to play these kids at? Is it their preference, yours, or both?
They tell me what position they play. Of course I can always make a suggestion for change if I think a different position would suit him/his skill set better.
What makes your program unique?
We are unique for many reasons. From a technical stand point, we probably break down the skill into small components better than anyone else. We have the players work on those skills in three progressive steps.
First stationary, then moving slowly, then moving at game speed. Our instructors, who are all former IHC students, do a great job by pulling the players off to the side and reinforcing my instruction one-on-one as needed.
We also utilize the ice better than any of our competitors. You will not see players standing in lines or much down time during an IHC hockey school. We keep the players moving. We consciously make our schools a very positive environment for the players. We realize that we can influence the attitudes and habits of our students on and off the ice, so we try to make that influence a very positive one.
We are also unique because of our longevity and the services that we offer. There have been many hockey development programs that have come and gone in this area during our 28 years of operation. We are the only full time, full service hockey development company in this area where we develop hockey players from age 5 to pro, operate tournament teams, and advise, place and represent youth, college, junior, and pro hockey players.
What tournament teams do you role out, how do you ultimately choose the players that end up on the teams and who do they play?
We have several tournament teams. We have tryouts for our AAA Team IHC teams. These teams are usually made up of Bantams and Midgets and we play in high profile tournaments such as the Toronto Prospects, Boston’s Pre-Draft Showcase and Chowder Cups. We also have Pittsburgh Hockey Prospects AA teams that usually play in Canadian tournaments. These teams are made up of players who are committed to play for us without having tryouts.
What’s your main objective in working with the players in your program – what equals success for you?
My main objective in working with these young hockey players is just to be a positive influence on their lives.
It is great when NHL players come back and tell me that they would have never made it if it wasn’t for my instruction. But it is just as rewarding or even more rewarding when former students invite me to their graduation parties and their weddings and they and their parents tell me how I was a positive influence and role model in their life. There is no better feeling.
When I sit back and wonder if this business is really worth it, I think about those times and read those letters that I have received and realize that there is nothing else that I would want to do more. That is success for me. That is when I realize that someone has really got it. I have Mark Messier’s retirement speech quote on my website which I have always quoted – but in my own words: “It is not about becoming a professional athlete. It is about the journey and the people you meet along the way, and the life lessons you get while playing this incredible game.”
Hockey in Pittsburgh really seems to have improved tremendously with area players like Gibson, Saad, Miller, Trocheck and Houser all ranking high for the NHL draft. What do you attribute this to and how do you keep that momentum going?
Several of these players have come through our programs. I would like to think that I played a very small part in their success. But the real reason they are so successful is because they were LUCKY.
My definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. These players prepared themselves for success. They made the sacrifices, worked hard on and off the ice, and constantly worked on their skills
There are no short cuts. When the opportunity presented itself, they were prepared. The programs that they are currently in deserves more credit for their success than anyone in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, they had to leave Pittsburgh to get to the level they are at now. They started playing hockey right after the Penguins won the Stanley Cups in the early nineties. Hockey was booming and registration was at an all time high then. These are the players from that group who made the sacrifices and put in the hard work.
Unfortunately, this city is a Penguin town, not a hockey town. If the Penguins have success like they are having now, then hockey enrollment goes up. Before Crosby, hockey enrollment was at a dangerous all time low in Pittsburgh. Now with registration being at an all time high, and the success of associations developmental programs, combined with the Sidney Crosby-Reebok Little Penguin developmental program,hockey is booming here. The talent level is higher than ever here as well. Again, I think this is a result
of the numbers game. More players that are playing, more will succeed.
Do you do any pre-draft/combine prep for players entering the NHL draft as well?
We are working on having a pre-draft combine for the players we represent next year. We represent several players in the greater Toronto area and we send them to a training facility in Toronto that offers combine testing. We may partner with them next year to offer our IHC Hockey Management Combine Camp.
How do younger kids who go to schools that have little or no hockey programs get started playing hockey, and found, by the better leagues and colleges? What’s the process they should go through?
Most players come up through the amateur leagues before they play for their high schools as well. Most players work their way up from playing at the A level to AA, to AAA, then move on to Junior Hockey after midgets. To be seen by NCAA college hockey, you have to play tier one or tier two Jr. ‘A’ Hockey which requires you to leave this area.
What advice would you offer young players trying to get started on the road to the NHL. What should they be doing to ensure they are on the right track?
First, they have to realize that the odds of making the NHL is very very slim. However, having a goal to be the best you can be and play with the best players in the world is not a bad thing, as long as they still enjoy the game and are getting the other benefits out of playing this great game.
They have to constantly want to improve their skills and put in the time and work on their off-ice training as well. They need to get away from playing so many games in the spring and summer and work on their skills and conditioning. I always tell my players, “you don’t play hockey to get in shape, you get in shape to play hockey.” You also have to play at the highest level possible. I don’t believe
that AAA hockey before Bantams is that beneficial. The money you save from playing AAA at young age can go towards hockey schools and clinics, and towards a structured hockey specific training program.
Scouts start looking at players at the age of fourteen, so this is a good time to be playing in a good AAA program. The tier one and tier two junior leagues have their drafts for players at the age of 15. If you are being looked at by junior teams and prep school teams, you may want to hire an advisor to help you through this confusing process. Just make sure that you are enjoying the journey while you have your sights set on your goal. Time goes by too fast so enjoy every minute of it and hopefully you’ll have great memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I am very blessed to be able to do what I am doing for as long as I have been doing it. It’s like living a dream.