It is not unusual for a hockey coach to work with a team, watching players come and go, but staying at the same level in the league. But for Belleville resident Dan Truman, he has coached the same group of players for nearly all their playing careers, growing and evolving with them.
Since Truman was three-years-old, his life was all about hockey.
"My buddies and I would dress up in suits and gel our hair playing road hockey because that's what the pros did," he said.
Growing up, he played defense for the Belleville Bobcats and Quinte Red Devils.
The Belleville Bobcats first formed in 1972 as a Junior B hockey team. Junior B hockey is a league open for players 16 to 20 years old. The Bobcats were based in Belleville for nine years. After 1981, the team moved to Quinte West to become the Trenton Bobcats. The team was then based in the city for six years before returning to Belleville. The Belleville Bobcats carried on two more years. In 1989, the team moved again, this time to Wellington to eventually merge teams with the well-known Wellington Dukes.
In March 1990, the Quinte Red Devils were formed to meet the requirements to be an AAA team. To do this, resources were pooled. Belleville, Bancroft, Brighton, Colborne, Desoronto, Frankford, Grafton, Madoc, Marmora, Napanee, Picton, Tamworth, Trenton, Tweed and Wellington all came together to make up the numbers. In 1992, it was further expanded also to include Cobourg. The Quinte Red Devils are still a local team today.
The 32-year old Loyalist College Residence Programmer doesn't play competitive hockey anymore. But it doesn't mean he has hung up his skates. His 29 years of hockey experience left him with not only great skills but even better memories.
When he was eight-years-old, he recalled his team that year won against all the other teams in their division across Ontario.
"It was huge when you were a kid because when we played all Ontario, we were in Peterborough and played at the same stadium the OHL team played. And we had a crowd and music. The music, it isn't like today. There was no iPads or anything. A lot of the rinks now are newer, but they weren't before. We got the music going out, and it was just like being the NHL when you're a kid. You're in awe," Truman recalled.
He wanted to stay in the game. At 24, he stopped playing competitive hockey but got asked to help as a defensive coach for a novice team part-time. Novice is a division of hockey for kids seven- and eight-years-old.
He says he immediately fell in love with coaching. But when the time came for the kids to move on to the next level, Truman decided to carry on coaching them. Once that season ended, the team invited him back to continue coaching year after year. He said he's always agreed because of the great relationships he's formed with the players, parents and other coaching staff.
While he started with them when they were seven and eight years old, it's been awesome to watch them grow into teenagers.
"At the beginning your dealing with children. You have to modify your language, so you don't swear in front of them. They listen really well, but the skill level isn't there. But now that they're older, it's more fun to watch because it's so competitive."
He is still coaching them at the Junior A division level.
Coaching 16 and 17-year-olds is a lot different than when the children started out, he said.
"It's more maintenance when they get older. You get the personalities that come out - they want to party and talk about girls, and it's less about hockey. But the skill level is fun to watch. I'm a big part of them going to play Junior A hockey, which can lead to them getting scholarships, so it's great to have a touch on that."
Junior A hockey is the division for hockey players 16 to 20-years-old.
Over the years he said it's been awesome to watch the kids grow and be able to stick with the same parent group and have everyone form a crew together.
Nathan Channel is one of the players on the team Truman coaches. Nathan, 15, has been playing hockey for the last 10 years and currently plays defense and forward for the Minor Midget AA Junior Bulls.
His mom, Terri, said upon meeting Truman years ago her first impression of him was that he was very quiet but had a great passion for hockey and helping the kids right from the start. Over the years she said she has enjoyed seeing him open up and connect with everyone.
"Nathan is an only child, so with hockey, he has lots of friends that are like brothers to him, especially Uncle D. Not only has Dan taught Nate so much about hockey, but they both also have a love for the outdoors and all things that go fast," Channel said.
She said as the years have gone by and the games have gotten harder the boys have really had to evolve and Truman has done that with them. Channel said after all the years of hockey and spending time together the boys have grown to refer to Truman as 'Uncle D' and that the families don't consider each-other friends, but one big family.
"Dan has emitted his love of hockey and his pure dedication to all the boys on the team. He gives each of the boys what he feels they need out of him, whether it be the strict coach, the stern older brother, the trusted friend with a lending ear, or the easy going fun loving Uncle D," she said.
"That's the best part about hockey, the friendships. And I always promote that to parents with young kids. Get kids involved with sports because it's friends for life," Truman says.
Truman said as much as everyone acts like a crew, it can be hard to draw the line for parents when they watch their kids play.
"If you put any kind of sport and their child together they turn crazy. It's the love of a child. They don't always respect the rules. There's a 24-hour rule- you cant talk to coaching staff 24 hours after a game, it's a cool down period.
The love of the child doesn't allow them to see the way they perform. The way they're performing verses how the parent perceives they're performing is different," he explained.
Since he doesn't play competitively anymore coaching has been a big part of his life. He said being apart of that community involves a lot of time, attending weekly practices, games, and tournaments when they happen. Truman said many times during the years he's asked himself why he does it but says you have to look for the good parts.
"The reason we have a great community is because of the people who care about it. Your community is only as good as what you put into it."
Apart from coaching Truman still enjoys playing in three different pickup leagues with his friends.
Right now he's at his maximum for coaching certification. Currently, he can act as a defense coach for any age group, up to Junior A and Junior B teams. Eventually, he said he hopes to get his professional certification so he can go over to the United States to coach.
While he's always looked up to his dad for being a hero, he believes a hero is someone who goes above and beyond for their community without any compensation.