Kingston Frontenacs head coach Jay Varady was born Cahokia, Ill., just outside of St. Louis, MO. He spent his junior hockey with Dubuque in the USHL and joined Union, where he played and started his coaching career.
Neutral Zone caught up with Varady to discuss his hockey journey, why he stayed in coaching, and more.
Neutral Zone: Where did you play hockey growing up and what path did you take to get where you’re at now?
Jay Varady: I grew up playing in St. Louis. I went and played in Chicago for the Chicago Young Americans in Midget hockey way back when. Then I played for Dubuque in the USHL for two years. Then went on to play at Union College. I got hurt my senior year in college and spent my senior year on the coaching staff at Union. I went home to coach the U16 AAA Team in 2001 and then I went to [coach in] the North American League with the Pittsburgh Forge.
NZ: What drove you to keep you coaching?
JV: For me, it was the year that I left. I played junior hockey, then college hockey, then I had some time away from it where I was coaching U16 hockey. It wasn’t my focus of what I was trying to do. I was working a normal job at the same time and I missed it. I missed being in the rink every day. For me, the opportunity to be around the game every day, at a professional level, meaning that is your job, is really what drove me.
NZ: When you left home to play hockey is Chicago, did you billet with a family or what was the situation there?
JV: I billeted in both midget hockey and in junior hockey.
NZ: What advice would you give to parents that may be sending their children away to billet for the first time? What advice would you give to players?
JV: I think there is a unique situation for both sides where you can build fantastic relationships. From a player perspective, you have families that are opening up their home to you and you are learning to build relationships for the first time in your life. [Billet parents] are semi-surrogate parents where you talk with them, spend time with them and have dinner with them. You integrate into their family and a lot of times there’s other kids in the home and you become part of their lives as well. For me, I just had fantastic experiences throughout my billeting, whether it was with the families or with roommates I had during those times.
NZ: If you had the opportunity to change, modify, subtract or add one rule or aspect in the game today, what would it be?
JV: I think the one thing that’s been really interesting right now has been the slashing. I just think that the slashing on skilled players’ hands makes them vulnerable. I really like the fact that slashes are called in the game, because I think that it’s about protecting the players. One thing you can’t control is a player’s health, and I think you can kind of manage that by taking dangerous plays, such as a slash, out of the game.
NZ: If somebody told you they had a player for you to look at, what’s the first thing you would ask that person?
JV: I think it’s about spending some time going to watch that player. I think every one of us, as organizations or teams, have needs at that time. It’s about going to explore every opportunity when you hear about available players.
NZ: How much do academics play into your interest in potential players?
JV: I think it’s important. It’s a reflection into a player’s character. If they care about going to school and getting good grades, then it shows they care about what they are trying to accomplish.
NZ: What do you consider to be the most important skills for young players and what should they be developing?
JV: Skating and passing for me. Right now, in today’s game, it’s a fast game. You have to be able to move your feet and you have to be able to move the puck.
NZ: Is there any advice you would give to young hockey players?
JV: Enjoy the game. Come to the rink and enjoy it. It’s a sport. Players should enjoy coming to the rink they should enjoy working on their skills. I think there’s a lot of pressure on our young players before there needs to be.
NZ: Do you have any advice for parents?
JV: Find out what’s important to your son or daughter, be supportive of them, and help them try to achieve their goals.
NZ: Is there any general life advice you have for young hockey players?
JV: There are a lot of great people in that game and there are a lot of great relationships you can build. Get to know people when you go to the rink, have conversations with them, and learn from those people.
NZ: You’ve coached at various levels of hockey. What is your favorite level of hockey to coach?
JV: Coaching 16 to 20-year-old players is what I’ve done the most of and I just really enjoy that age group. They are growing and developing. I am part teacher and part mentor. They’re still learning the game and there are a lot of lessons to still be learned.
NZ: Is there any place you’ve been to in hockey that particularly enjoyed?
JV: I’ve enjoyed every stop I’ve been along the way. For me, the game of hockey is an adventure. I was talking the other night and Kingston is now the sixth stop for me in coaching, and it’s always exciting. I get to build new relationships and learn new ideas from the people I’m around. Now I have a chance to be around Darren [Keily], and I think he’s got unbelievable experience in the OHL, Kurtis Foster, who has experience in the NHL, and I have a chance to work with Phil [Mangan], who’s played in the Quebec League and the East Coast League. Then Doug Gilmore walks into the room and you get another wealth of NHL experiences. All those opportunities really enlighten me.
NZ: How do you measure your success as a coach?
JV: For me, it’s about an individual player’s growth within the team environment. You want to help both achieve their goals. You want to help a player achieve [their] individual goals while fitting into the team’s goals. I think that the growth together is how you measure success.