by Larry Ham
At the end of this article are instructions on how to enter for a chance to win 4 tickets to an upcoming Monsters Hockey home game!
In these financially challenging days we live in, families are looking for inexpensive entertainment options. If you have kids who love sports, I’d like to recommend an evening with the Fresno Monsters. The Monsters are Fresno’s NAHL Hockey team, and they play at one of the best Hockey venues anywhere, Selland Arena.
Inexpensive is a relative term, I suppose, but check this out: A family of four can park and get four excellent seats to see the Monsters for less than twenty dollars. That’s a deal you absolutely cannot beat anywhere, and even if you don’t know a lot about the game of Hockey, you will have a great time in a very family oriented atmosphere.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Monster’s head coach and general manager Eric Ballard.
Larry: First, tell us about your background – where you grew up, your start in Hockey, your previous playing and coaching stops, and of course, your family.
Eric: I am from a small town in northern Minnesota called Grand Rapids. I started playing hockey at four years old. It was my older brother Cal who got me on my first pair of skates. I played youth hockey through the local system and then onto college hockey. I spent four years playing senior A hockey and actually signed my first autograph in Selland Arena. After my playing days, I started coaching full time in 1996 and it has been my career move for the past 14 years. I have coached in Alaska, Minnesota, Ontario Canada, Wisconsin, Colorado and California. I have owned and operated teams in Minnesota and Ontario Canada. I am married with two children. My son is 14, his name is Michael, my daughter is 13, and her name is Caitlin.
Larry: I noticed when we saw the Monsters play that they look very very young! Where does your player pool come from?
Eric: Our players are 17-20 years of age and are considered the best at their age. Our players come from all over the world. We recruit players from all over Europe, Canada and the US. Our roster this season for the NAHL team is comprised of players from Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Sweden, Ontario Canada, Illinois, New York, Colorado and Alaska.
Larry: I would imagine that with so many of these players playing away from home for the first time, you are not only a coach, but an occasional father as well?
Eric: That is correct. We as a staff have to be a coach, a father, a big brother and a lot of good listeners. It is a very rewarding job when these players get it figured out and make huge strides to achieve their hockey goals.
Larry: Where do the players live during the season, and what do they do between games?
Eric: The players live with local families here in Fresno, which are called “Billet Families”. Local families open their homes for our players to live with them and their families. Our schedule is quite extensive with on -ice practice and games, structured workouts and numerous public appearances. We pride ourselves on being a grassroots community program so we spend a large amount of time with public appearances and community driven programs. We raise awareness and money for local charities and businesses like Children’s Hospital, American Red Cross and a number of other functions.
Larry: Do these players come to you with aspirations to go all the way to the NHL, or College Hockey, or even to just climb the ladder in the junior tier?
Eric: These players are being groomed for college and NHL status. They come here for just that process. We are not only developing hockey players but helping develop the life lessons and life skills they will need to be successful young men in the world.
Larry: Fresno has a very rich Hockey history. Some Hockey teams in Fresno have been more successful than others. What have you learned from the previous Hockey teams in Fresno?
Eric: The fans here are great hockey fans, some of the best that I have ever seen. I have learned that there is great support here and we look forward to being a part of the community for many years to come.
Larry: The game of Hockey has changed so much in the past several decades. The players are bigger, faster and more skilled than ever. Has coaching changed as well?
Eric: Maybe in small ways. The game is still played the same but there has been an evolution of tactics and systems that have changed the way the game is played in certain ways. Coaching is still evolving every day and becomes a management position sometimes as opposed to hockey coaching. As a coach at this level, you need to be able to teach but also manage talents and attitudes.
Larry: What has been your impression of Fresno Hockey fans so far?
Eric: There’s a great hockey tradition here and we hope to help build the brand of hockey here for the Valley and the Monsters.
Larry: The Monsters seem to be making an effort to keep the costs for a family to a minimum. The three-dollar tickets offer is really an eye catcher. Is this something the Monsters set out to do from the outset?
Eric: Yes, we want the Monsters games to be very affordable for all types of families. We want be an entertainment avenue that’s inexpensive and fun that the whole family can participate in without costing a lot of money. With the economy the way it is and the disposable income at an all time low, we want to ensure that everyone can experience the Monsters Hockey!
Larry: I have to ask you about fighting. It’s been a part of Hockey forever, it seems. There are many people who have made noises about getting it out of the game. What is your opinion on fighting, what are the rules concerning fighting in the Monster’s league, and do you think fighting will ever be outlawed?
Eric: Fighting has been and always will be a part of the game at certain levels. Junior hockey might have the most fights than any other level of hockey and there are some reasons for that. These young men are fighting for college scholarships and NHL draft status so in essence these players are striving to increase their stock value in the game of hockey. I am a believer in the fact that it occurs and is part of the game. It’s in a controlled environment and can be regulated so yes I believe it should be a part of the game at this level.
My thanks to Coach Ballard for his visit during a very busy time of year. If you want to get behind and support the Fresno Monsters, the best way is to get to as many games as you can, and yell as loud as you can! Check the Monster’s upcoming schedule at fresnomonsters.com, or right here at Kings River Life Magazine.
To enter for a chance to win a 4-pack of loge tickets to any upcoming Monsters Hockey home game, simply comment on this article or send an email with the subject line “hockey” to email@example.com. A Winner will be chosen on January 15, 2011.