ROCHESTER, Mich – When Anaheim Jr. Ducks head coach Alex Kim was playing junior hockey in Des Moines, Iowa, he felt fortunate to find a Korean community in the area where he could find a “home-cooked” meal, so to speak. Those meals may seem small, but it was important to stay connected to Kim’s culture and the feeling of home.
Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to have a little slice of home while away from home?
Perhaps it is the importance of a home-cooked meal that has helped so many of the Anaheim Jr. Ducks players lead their team to the Chipotle-USA Hockey Tier I 16U National Championship. Christian Kim and Ty Hendricks both returned home, reuniting with their California teammates, after being away.
“I moved to Michigan with my mom, and my dad stayed back in California,” said Christian. “I definitely missed his cooking because he can cook up a lot of good stuff.”
Now of course, there is much more to it than meals. The two players have outstanding hockey skills that will travel with them wherever they go. But there is something to be said about the comfort of your own home. Many things draw people back to home. For Christian, it was the ability to play for a coach that he felt could help him the most with his development. For him, that was Alex Kim.
“I came home to play for Alex,” he said. “I’ve known him for a long time and I came back so that I could play for him for two years.
Hendricks spent the last three years playing for the Ducks' first opponent – Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Though the Ducks would lose in a shootout, Hendricks enjoyed playing against his former team.
“It was a tough game, for sure. We battled with them. But I left Shattuck so that I could come home and play for Coach Alex, too. I’ve known him since I was about six years old, and he’s always been there for me.”
Goaltender Myles Roberts had the opportunity to leave home but decided to stay so that he could work on his development.
“It’s definitely a nice feeling to be at home, be with your family and still see your friends,” said Roberts. “I also felt like my development was pretty good, just I didn’t feel like I needed to go anywhere.”
Their head coach can relate to leaving home and getting out of his comfort zone. Alex came from Irvine, Calif. where he graduated with a class that was nearly 50% Asian, he said. Moving to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan was quite the experience for him.
“My dad would look through the phone book to find any Korean to sort of finding that community,” said Kim. “We were able to find that, but it was eye-opening.”
Along with a talented team that nearly knocked off the number one ranked team coming into the tournament, the Ducks feature both a multi-cultural coaching staff and team. Alex, who is Korean-American, is joined by former NHLers Ray Macias, who is Hispanic, and Laddy Kohn, who is from the Czech Republic.
Alex noted the team is representative of its community.
“When I was growing up, we had a very diverse team that was representative of where I was from,” said Kim. “So, in that sense, it hasn’t changed all that much. But in some ways, it is more robust.”
The seasoned head coach has a wealth of hockey experience to help the budding hockey community. Following his junior hockey career, Kim played for Miami University and Colorado College, followed by an 11-year pro career spanning eight leagues and five countries. The importance of having a Korean meal, something warm and flavorful to remind him of home in California, allowed him to travel and find success in so many different places.
But it didn’t make it any less difficult as a teenager when he was craving ribs.
That’s why Kim wants people to know that hockey in California is still growing, and he offers one piece of advice for players.
“I wholeheartedly believe, no matter where you live, if you’re good enough, people will find you.”
As the Anaheim youth hockey program continues to grow, Kim homes players stay home to play with their friends, stick with their community-based hockey program, and most importantly enjoy that home cooking.