Cincinnati Cyclones Assistant Coach Jason Payne, has been selected as a speaker by the NHL Coaches' Association for Developing Players for a Career in Pro Hockey.
Payne, who enjoyed a 14-year pro career - including five seasons in the ECHL before entering the coaching ranks, started playing hockey around the age of 4. “My mother migrated from St. Lucia and she brought me to St. Mike’s in Toronto, put me on the ice and said ‘away you go,’ I always had a passion from there, that’s kind of how it all got started.” His strides grew and went on to play juniors for teams such as the London Knights and Barrie Colts.
The adjustment to juniors is not an easy feat between being away from his family and not having a lot of time to spend with friends. “My mother raised me in a way to go after my goals and live my dreams. As a young hockey player, it’s definitely new to move away and live with a different family, with different cultures, lifestyles, and expectations; that excitement of continuing to play hockey at a high level, that kind of superseded everything.” Payne went on to explain about making sacrifices. While his friends were hanging out, going to the movies, spending time at the mall, whatever normal teenagers do, he was at the rink, in the gym, training or getting his rest. “Your true friends really know who you are and they know the goals you have set for yourself,” he went on, “they’re the ones who support you on it rather than take you away from it.”
During his time in professional hockey, Payne was known as a tough guy. He recognizes how much the game has changed, especially the pace of play and the skill level. “The game has definitely changed since then, as well as the player and us as coaches,” he noted, “We [coaches] have to adapt, we have to change with the times. The players require different tools and to be handled differently than they were when I was coming up so it’s just finding that fine balance to be able to do that.”
Payne was always hungry and strived for more. “Going from junior hockey to bouncing around the minor leagues, you can never take anything for granted and you have to work harder every day and every shift you can never take a day off,” he continued, “I always had to prepare myself because I never knew when my next contract was coming, and then I had to go out, and I had to fight for it. I had to be ready for whatever opportunity presented itself at me, and that means not taking days off.”
Today, it’s more known to take time to rest, but at the time, Payne’s mindset was, “when I’m resting, somebody else is working,” and he carries that same thought into his coaching career.
It’s no doubt that hockey and developing the next generation of players is Payne’s passion. After his playing days, he returned to Toronto and started coaching low-junior hockey. He ended up coaching one of his former teams, the Mississauga Senators, for multiple age groups, “I took the 2002 age group from peewee to midget. To watch these kids develop and now understand what makes them tick and compare it to when I was playing--that’s a really good learning tool and allowed me to broaden my coaching horizon and open my mind on how to approach the players of today.”
Payne’s passion for the game runs so deep, that he opened his own skating school in Toronto. “I wanted to give back to the sport that I love,” he continued, “...the game of hockey is based on skating. If you can’t skate, you can’t play; it’s a key element that people need to focus on. I’m not giving back because my kid is on the team, I don’t have any kids in the game--I give back because I want to see kids get better, I want to help them develop, that’s just the person I am. That’s the reason I started up my school--to help give back to the community and the game that has given me so much.”
When asked with what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self or younger players moving through the ranks, this is what he had to say:
“You have to keep pressing. Never give up, this game and anything in life gives you every opportunity to quit, give up, stop. The people who survive are the ones who kept pushing and fighting through all the adversity. Success doesn’t come without adversity, and when that success comes, that’s when all the happiness comes. The great feelings and moments because you’ve overcome the adversity to get there. Nothing comes easy. If it came easy, everyone would do it. So, keep pushing, keep working, nothing happens before it’s time, but you have to go after what you want, live the dream and work hard for the dream.”