The Call Up: Wooster to Odessa

The Call Up.

In junior hockey, being called up to higher levels is something every player dreams about. Players put in long hours every off ice session, ice session, video session, and during games all for the chance to be called up to a higher level. Being called up is not something that comes easy. It is a process. It is even more difficult on the coaching side and even more of a rare process. Behind every team is a coach who puts in double or triple the hours preparing, planning, and guiding his team through everything an entire season presents. For Wooster Oilers Head Coach Aaron Hernandez, it was not only a huge honor to be called up to coach with the Odessa Jackalopes NAHL team, but also a dream come true for a young coach.

Head Coach Aaron Hernandez was called up to the NAHL this past 2016-2017 regular season after his NA3HL regular season concluded. With a strong work ethic, integrity, and high character it’s no surprise why Aaron is being noticed. “Aaron has been a great addition to our organization over the last few years and his role has continued to evolve. When we go to camps, we are looking at the players on the ice, but a couple years ago we found Aaron. Next thing you know, he’s on the bench coaching and looking to develop some players for us. Currently Aaron is our Regional Scout, but he does so much more for us”, said NAHL Odessa Jackalopes President Kevin Leisgang. In his eleventh year coaching and his first year as Head Coach, Aaron most certainly put in the hours. A normal day for him consisted of working with is team between six to seven hours each day. He leads all team functions both on and off of the ice. “In order for me to do my job to the fullest for my players benefit, I need to oversee all aspects of my players development” said Hernandez. His coaching does not stop there. “Having Aaron in our organization is a huge asset for us. We can’t cover the country watching every NA3HL game or be at every tournament, Aaron does a great job seeing hundreds of games and covering the entire Midwest for us. Aaron’s assessment on players have been spot on throughout the years. We’ve had great success with affiliating his players and the ability of his players to come into our organization and step in to the starting lineup is a true testament to Aaron and his organization. We’ve been able to watch players develop through the Wooster Oiler program and prepare them to play with us at the next level” said Leisgang. Aaron is a firm believer in leadership coming from the top down. This means that it all starts and ends with him. “In order for a team to find success, a commitment is necessary. This commitment begins and ends with me every day. I needed to be the hardest working person in the organization every day and my boys needed to follow my lead. This was not something we said on day one and then just decided to live it. No. This took a renewing commitment every day, every minute, and every second…together as a single unit” said Hernandez.

With a positive first season as Head Coach concluded, Aaron spoke to us about his experience during his call up to coach with Odessa. “The call up as a whole was surreal. I was very excited to get the coliseum when I first arrived. Ector County Coliseum is an amazing venue. There is a professional atmosphere that you feel as soon as you step inside and take in all of the sights. It was a special feeling scanning the ice and feeling the magnitude of the coliseum. To be able to call the coliseum “home”, that would be something special” said Hernandez. “The entire Jackalopes staff greeted me as if I were a celebrity. They were extremely welcoming and were very interested to here about Wooster and our season”. We asked Aaron what his thoughts were on what it would be like for a player to play for the NAHL Odessa Jackalopes and he stated “Any player that would be fortunate enough to play for the Jackalopes would be in hockey heaven. They have all the amenities that a professional team would have from a full staff, full sized rehabilitation and training room, full sized players lounge, breakfast kitchen, workout facilities, professional sized players locker room, professionally run organization, loyal fans, a youth program that is crazy about the junior team, and they put on a professional event every game”. Aaron spoke about how amazing it was to feel the energy in the building every night. He mentioned how being on the bench was the best seat in the house and also informed us of how important the support staff is for the Jackalopes. “The ownership is fully supportive and invested into the organization. I had the opportunity to meet a few members of the ownership and they were even at the games cheering on the team each night. They love it!” said Hernandez.

Odessa Jackalopes President Kevin Leisgang spoke about why it was important to call up Coach Aaron Hernandez up when he said “I think it was very important to get Aaron in here. It was an opportunity for him to see what we have to offer and what our organization is about. He’s always promoting his players and other players to us and talks highly on us, but hasn’t had the opportunity to come down here himself. Meeting at tournaments, camps and over the phone only goes so far. I feel we have one of the best set ups in junior hockey, most players, scouts or coaches that come through say the same thing. We still operate in a pro arena and still run the organization as we did ten years ago in the former Central Hockey League. I was hoping not only to show Aaron what we do to help boast our organization, but maybe he saw a thing or two he could contribute to us while he was here or bring back to Wooster and implement within his organization”. From a coaching perspective, Hernandez said “Getting the opportunity to observe, learn from, and work with Head Coach Gatto was a worthwhile experience. It is always great to see how a fellow coach runs his program, locker room, and bench. I am very fortunate to have been able to be a part of the Jackalopes three game weekend sweep”. He also shared the opportunity with three of his former players who are all in the NAHL. Wichita Falls Wildcats forward Jeffrey Skinner and goaltender Evan Moyse are former players of Coach Hernandez’s while Odessa Jackalope’s defenseman Cole Barney played for Coach Hernandez in Wooster this season before being called up to Odessa.

“We’ve been able to affiliate and bring in a player each of the last two seasons from his teams. Aaron does a great job putting a team together himself, looking out for his players and taking care of his players. We know exactly what type of player we are getting when they come from Aaron. He has set a standard on what type of players come out of his program. I would even like for my son to be able to play for him. That is how much I believe in what he is doing”, said Leisgang. In his first year as Head Coach, Coach Hernandez was able to take a young rebuilding group who started the season in sixth place with a 2-18-3-1 record and led them into the second half of the season towards a 13-9-1 eventual finish which put them in fifth place (just outside of making the playoffs). His team was ranked 12th for their penalty kill (PK) in the entire 48 team league (3rd in the East division). They also ranked 6th in the league (1st in the East division) for short handed goals for (SHGF) with 13. His team also notched 3 short handed goals in a single game which put them 1st in the entire league in that category as no other team had more short handed goals in a single game than the Oilers did in the 2016-2017 regular season. The Oilers had the second best winning streak in the East division with 7 wins in a row and the 5th best road winning streak throughout the entire 48 team league with 8 wins in a row.

Coach Hernandez credits his teams’ second half success with his strong commitment to his team culture and the positive learning environment he provides with his coaching mission and philosophy. “The easiest way for me to put it is that everyone at the next level has talent. That is a given. Where you see the successful teams differ from the not so successful teams is the character of their team. This is easy to spot if you are looking for the right signs”. Aaron believes in building good habits. “If we put a strong emphasis on teaching our players, guiding our young athletes, and leading them towards success through daily habits, repetition, and positive ways of thinking then we can make a difference in a young persons life. The characteristics they learn and build while working with me will fuel them for success in a team atmosphere where they need to learn how to communicate with various different personalities, use critical thinking skills, and problem solve together as a group”. Aaron emphasized “It is my job to challenge my players everyday. If we are not challenged, we will not learn or grow. Complacency is an athletes worst enemy. So I aim to challenge my players, correct my players, teach my players, and guide them on their path to success”.

Head Coach Aaron Hernandez wanted to close with these final thoughts: “There are many things that I will take back with me to Wooster that will aid in the development of my players. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to the whole Odessa Jackalopes NAHL organization for allowing me be a part of their program. I would like to especially send a special thanks to the President of the Odessa Jackalopes Kevin Leisgang and Head Coach Greg Gatto. Thank you also to the ownership, front office staff, volunteers, Shriners, sponsors, Mitch Macleod, Cody Lefkowitz, Eric Pike, and Donnie Margettie for a great experience! It is one I will never forget”.