When preseason practices start today for high school winter sports teams throughout the Capital Region, the Shenendehowa hockey program will have its veteran leader back at the helm.
After taking off the 2015-16 season, Juan de la Rocha will resume his role as the Plainsmen’s head coach.
“It was much-needed,” de la Rocha said of his season-long break from running the Shenendehowa program. “It’s such a grind. . . . Anybody that knows about running a program knows it’s not a three-to-four-month thing. It’s an all-year thing and it just wears you down after a while.”
When it was announced last year that de la Rocha would take off the 2015-16 season to spend more time with his family, it came with the caveat that the coach planned to be back with the Plainsmen for this upcoming season. Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said de la Rocha confirmed to him several months ago that the coach still wanted to return for 2016-17.
“Through our conversations, Culnan said, “I thought he sounded really recharged.”
That’s all Culnan said he needed from de la Rocha to reinsert him as the hockey program’s head coach.
“With everything Juan has given to our hockey program, he’d earned the right and deserved the opportunity to come back,” Culnan said of de la Rocha, who led Shenendehowa to seven Section II championships during his first 14 seasons as head coach. “He earned that right through all the hard work he’s put into that program.”
Scott Louis, de la Rocha’s longtime assistant coach, filled in as Shenendehowa’s head coach during a 2015-16 season in which a young Plainsmen team finished 9-12-0 overall and 8-3-0 in the Capital District High School Hockey League. Louis will return this season to his role as assistant coach.
“He’s my right-hand man,” de la Rocha said. “He did a great job with such a young team last year. He did an awesome job.”
Culnan added: “Scott’s the kind of guy you need in a program, someone who can step in and do something like that for you.”
Along with de la Rocha, Shenendehowa will also return senior Hayden Haldane to its lineup for this season. The senior had originally planned this winter season to play for the Boston Junior Bruins of the United States Premier Hockey League, but Haldane instead has opted to return to Shenendehowa for his senior hockey season.
“It wasn’t a great fit for him there,” de la Rocha said. “Fortunately, he was able to not miss out on anything here.”
In his year away from the rink, the 41-year-old de la Rocha — who teaches at Shenendehowa’s Gowana Middle School — said he focused on spending time with his wife Dena Marie, daughter Christina and son Joey.
“It wasn’t like I was on winter vacation, but it was just relaxing,” de la Rocha said. “The biggest thing for me was to get to come home after school and see my family, help my kids with their homework, take my son to his [hockey] practices and help him with his equipment. To do random family things.”
While happy to have been able to take a season away from the Shenendehowa hockey program, de la Rocha said his passion remains for coaching. That was made clear to him during his winter away from the Plainsmen.
“There were a lot of things I missed,” he said. “I missed the competitiveness. I missed the camaraderie with the players. I missed my coaching staff.”
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Categories: High School Sports, Sports