Former NHL forward steps behind the bench for youth team
On Saturday, The New Jersey Colonials announced their next 12U coach for the 2023-24 season; it will be 15-year NHL veteran Travis Zajac. The former New Jersey Devils forward joins a long list of NHL alumni to return as youth hockey coaches. Most notably in recent memory, Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla and two-time Stanley Cup champion Trevor Daley.
The New Jersey Colonials announce Travis Zajac as the 12U Minor 2012 AAA Head Coach for the 2023-24 season. Zajac joined the Colonials this season as an assistant with the 2012's who are fighting for an AYHL playoff spot. @NJDevils @AYHL @AtlanticDistr pic.twitter.com/UWWd2hYn7W— NJColonialsYouthHockey (@colonials_nj) January 14, 2023
Zajac, along with countless other former pros, return to the game they know to shepherd the next generation of hockey players. In this case, he will likely lead his son, Zenon Zajac, and his soon-to-be 12U squad through the ‘23-24 season and beyond.
Iginla, Daley and now Zajac, are some of the more notable alumni on the North American youth hockey scene.
The most memorable of all is likely that of Hockey Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis. The former Stanley Cup champion made headlines last season as a youth hockey coach, going from coaching his son’s 13U Mid-Fairfield Jr. Rangers to the Montreal Canadiens’ bench last February.
Zajac behind the bench for the first time
Much like Iginla and Daley, Zajac enjoyed a long NHL playing career, last suiting up in the 2020-21 season with the New York Islanders.
Per the club’s release, “Zajac’s coaching philosophy is about teaching real skills that help kids make proper reads, create good habits and stay safe on the ice.”
This year’s Colonials 12U squad is in the midst of a playoff push in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League (AYHL). With the addition of Zajac, the Colonials are hoping it will put their program over the top as an attractive destination in a heavily populated youth hockey region.
Iginla carving out success in Western Canada
Jarome Iginla has been a fixture in youth hockey since officially retiring as a player in 2018. Helping coach the respective teams of his two sons, Tij and Joe, Iginla also helped build the 2006 Boston Jr. Eagles into a top program during the 2018-19 season. The 2008-born Boston Jr. Terriers were also beneficiaries of his services for three seasons as well.
Beginning with the 2021-22 season, Iginla has served as head coach of the RINK Hockey Academy Kelowna’s U15 team. After a successful first season that saw the team skate to a 42-15-1 record, things have picked up where they left off. Currently at 35-6-0, Kelowna has been a constant in the World Rankings since the start of the season. Iginla’s son, Joe, is also a member of this year’s U15 roster.
Iginla also relies on Patrick Wiercioch as an assistant coach. Wiercioch brings a wealth of experience, including an AHL Cup Championship, World Championship Gold Medal and 11 seasons of professional hockey.
Daley aiming to grow hockey in South Florida
For 2009-born Florida Alliance, Trevor Daley steers the ship. Considered a non-traditional hockey market to some,the sport continues to grow at a rapid pace in South Florida. Daley now looks to continue on its trajectory.
As an added perk, Daley’s son, Trevor, is a standout for the Alliance. At the second annual Champions League Tournament last month, he collected 13 points en route to the team winning the championship.