Before the gold medal, the accolades and the countless hours behind the
bench coaching high-level hockey, Whitney Juszkiewicz was an improv actor
“I was on stage every Sunday throwing on an attitude, throwing on an
accent, throwing on a persona and going for it,” recalls Juszkiewicz.
Born in Alberta, Juszkiewicz grew up in Edmonton and was deeply involved in
hockey, attending St. Francis Xavier High Performance Hockey Academy before
enrolling at the University of Saskatchewan, where she studied liberal arts
and was a member of the Huskies hockey team. She then studied live
performance at Red Deer Polytechnic before embarking on a career in live
“I spent almost eight years in the film, television and theatre industry
and I did a lot of stuff in Red Deer,” Juszkiewicz says. “My friends and I
then started a theatre company (BullSkit) that specialized in
improv and sketch comedy like Saturday Night Live or Second City.”
By 2012, Juszkiewicz was living in Vancouver, running her theatre company,
performing improv and providing hockey lessons to kids. It was after one of
those lessons that a parent asked if she had ever considered coaching
hockey. After thinking it over, Juszkiewicz decided to go for it and soon
found herself behind the bench of a Vancouver-area U11 boys’ team.
“I must have done a pretty good job because in my first year I won rookie
coach of the year,” she says.
A little more than a decade later, Juszkiewicz is now a respected
high-performance hockey coach, having been behind the bench of numerous
high-level boys’ and girls’ teams throughout Greater Vancouver, and the
owner of Fire and Ice Hockey Development. She has held also held various
coaching-related positions with BC Hockey, briefly served as the executive
director of the Langley Minor Hockey Association, became a certified Hockey
Canada Skills Coach and worked as a female coach mentor with the NHL
Coaches’ Association during that time.
“I put the coaching hat on and I haven’t looked back,” says Juszkiewicz, who is also a coach in the B.C. provincial program, an associate coach with a U18 Prep team at the Delta Hockey Academy and head coach of a female U15 AAA team in the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association.
In February, as an assistant coach, Juszkiewicz helped Team BC win its
first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey at the 2023 Canada Winter Games.
“It was a privilege to work with those young women, some of whom went on to
win gold at the women’s under-18 world championship,” she says. “It was
just an unbelievable experience and it will definitely be one of my
all-time favourite memories as a coach.”
Same skills, different role
Although Juszkiewicz is no longer performing improv on weekends, she has
found that many of the skills she developed as an actor have transferred
over into the coaching world.
“[Coaching] hockey is reading the room and understanding that this may not
be the right time to really drill in the negatives and that everyone needs
a little bit of a bump, they need value,” she says.
In the acting world, Juszkiewicz says, a strong emphasis is placed on
organization, understanding objectives and having everyone buy into their
roles to ensure everything is successful, just like it is in hockey.
“You have the best shows when everybody understands the objective and I
find the coaching world is very much like that,” says Juszkiewicz, who
continues to dabble in acting, having appeared as an extra in Mighty Ducks:
Game Changers. “Everyone's got a job, everyone's got a special talent that
they're bringing; there is a reason why they're there and if we can just
dig into those specialties and create a nice, inclusive, safe environment,
we're going to have a great time.”
Learning and growing
Over the last four years, Juszkiewicz has been participating in Hockey
Women Master Coach Developer (WMCD) program, an elite initiative that is providing 38 high-performance women’s hockey
coaches with the skills they need to deliver clinics and train future
facilitators and evaluators as part of an effort to increase the number of
women-led coaching programs nationwide.
“It's been able to give me that extra credibility, that extra training and
that extra guidance that I find I am now using with all coaches that either
I work with or work for me,” Juszkiewicz says about the program, which she
is set to complete later this year. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to
understand how to work with people how to train them, how are you going to
create a learning environment as opposed to more of a lecture and just
listen to what I have to say environment.”
WMCD participants are nominated by Hockey Canada Members and must have
completed several certification and training courses to even be considered.
One of the biggest benefits of being in WMCD has been connecting with 37
other highly talented women, says Juszkiewicz.
“I am one of the only women in my province in the program. If I didn't have
the ability to connect with other girls in other provinces, I would feel
pretty lonely and like I was on my own little island. So, I think the best
part is that you are getting some of the top minds across the country in
terms of female leadership and female hockey getting together and that is
very empowering,” she explains. “It's extremely empowering to know that
you're not by yourself.”
Juszkiewicz’s hard work and continuous dedication to her craft over the
years has paid dividends. In 2021, she was named BFL Female Coach of the
Year for British Columbia in the Community category, and in 2022 she was
awarded the BC Hockey Development Award for coaching. She says her drive
for continuous learning and growth is fueled by her desire to continue
coaching in the game she loves.
“If you don't continue pushing yourself to learn and develop, you get
stagnant and ultimately you get left behind.”