Throughout the 2017-18 season, U SPORTS sits down with one key athlete, coach, and staff member of each U SPORTS athletic program in our new interview series “Getting to know…”
Name: Justin Caruana
Sport: Women’s hockey
Position: Head coach
Seniority: Three years
Previous school/position: Assistant coach, UOIT men’s hockey
Hometown: Orono, Ont.
- How did you first get involved in coaching? What was your path to your position as head coach of UOIT?
I first got involved in coaching when I was 15 years old. I was very fortunate to land a summer job as an on-ice instructor at Roger Neilson’s Hockey Camp. This was where I got my first taste of being able to help coach and push players to reach their goals. Once my playing career was finished in 2012, I was approached with an opportunity to be an assistant coach for the men’s program at UOIT. I jumped at the opportunity. Three years with the men’s program went by and a chance arose to be a head coach with the women’s program and here we are today.
- Who are the people that have influenced you most as a coach?
Obviously, my parents have been big influences in my life. Without them I wouldn’t be here today and without them pushing me, my career probably would not have wound up in hockey. I have also been very fortunate to play under and work alongside many great coaches. There are a handful, who to this day, I keep consistent contact with and am always bouncing ideas off or just talking hockey.
- How would you describe your coaching style?
I pride myself in believing coaching is about getting to know all 23 of your players. Everyone is different so ultimately I have 23 plans for each of those players to try to get them to where they need to be and how that will fit into our overall team goal. Team is the most important thing with me, but in the end I want to push each of my players to be the best they can be on the ice, in the gym, in the classroom and in life.
- Which coach do you admire the most, and why?
Roger Neilson had a big impact on my life, from attending his camp as a camper to getting to work with him as an instructor. Not only was he a great coach but he was a very humble person and passionate in everything he did. He once told me “you can do what you want to do, but make sure you’re doing what you love.” This is something I’ve always kept close with me. Although I didn’t know Rog for a long time, the little time I got to spend with him has really help mold me in to who I am today.
- What is the most “out-of-the-box” thing you’ve done as a coach?
We were down a couple of goals and I decided to pull our goalie with about six minutes left. I figured the more time with the extra attacker the better. We ended up losing the game.
- What is your greatest coaching moment or achievement?
First win as a head coach always stands out, but I get more of a joy when past players come back and share their successes they are having whether in hockey or life after hockey. Ultimately, my goal is to turn my players into better people so anytime they share these stories with me that’s the ultimate achievement.
- What’s the best advice you can give to an athlete and/or athlete’s parents?
A big thing we look for when recruiting and what I stress to many parents, is not only do we look for strong, passionate players, but we really put a big emphasis on finding good people. In hockey, being coachable and working in a team environment, where everyone is pulling towards the same goal, is a major asset. That translates to life after hockey when these players will join the workforce.
- How have you changed as a coach over time? What principles/values, etc. have remained the same?
I think if you’re not changing or open to changing you will get left in the tracks. As a coach I’m always looking for ways to improve, change things that may not be working or add bit and pieces here or there while the whole time staying true to my beliefs and my core concepts.
- What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in coaching mode?
When I am not coaching or at the rink (very minimal), you can find me out on the water with a fishing rod. I love to fish. It’s a whole new challenge dealing with weather conditions, locating the species and getting them to bite. It’s also very peaceful and relaxing to be out in the boat on the water.
- What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a coach?
It takes a lot for me to get embarrassed. I haven’t had too many instances where I have been in hockey. One thing I can think of is one regular season game a few years ago I fell off the end of the bench and ended up hitting my head. Got a nice little bump out of it and the girls had a nice laugh.