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Celebrating the Joy of Hockey Earned Jim Clare the Walter Yaciuk Award

By Nicole Haase, 06/04/24, 9:00AM MDT


Clare, who passed away in September 2023, had a profound impact on numerous hockey coaches across the country.

Every coach has a “tree” of people who worked under them before moving on in their careers. Some coaches leave a legacy of dozens of others whothey mentored and their influence ripples throughout their chosen sport. 

John Dunne, the executive director of the Amateur Hockey Association Illinois (AHAI), thinks the late Jim Clare had a hand in teaching over 10,000 coaches over the years. Clare’s impact on hockey is more of a tidal wave than a ripple, reaching far beyond Illinois and the Midwest. 

Clare served as a director and as the vice president of coaching and membership development at AHAI and was USA Hockey’s ADM Coordinator for Illinois, USA Hockey Associate Coach-in-Chief and USA Hockey Coach-in-Chief for Illinois, among other roles. When Clare passed away in September2023 after a courageous battle with cancer, hockey in Illinois, and across the U.S., suffered a great loss. 

“Jim’s greatest impact was in the USA Hockey coaching education program,” Dunne said in an interview with the AHAI website. “[He] ran every in-person coach’s clinic in Illinois for four years until the pandemic season. Then, he personally led 75% of the online coaching seminars for USA Hockey.”

In remembrance of his years of service, Jim Clare has been named the 2024 recipient of the Walter Yaciuk Award, which is presented annually by USA Hockey to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the organization’s coaching education program during many years of service as a volunteer. The award is named in honor of the late Walter Yaciuk, who was USA Hockey’s first Coach-In-Chief.

Throughout his volunteering career, Claire’s focus was on the kids who were learning the sport.

“Jim always thought about trying to put the kids first,” said Dan Jablonic, amanager of player development for USA Hockey. “When I think of Jimmy, it is his true passion to make sure the experience is there for every kid — not just the top kids — but every kid that plays our sport.”

Clare knew that the best way to ensure players grew up loving hockey was to help mold coaches who were the best they could be — not just at teaching hockey skills but creating a supportive and fun learning environment. 

“Jim truly understood that by developing good coaches, he was helping make players better and helping make USA Hockey better,” said Bob Mancini, USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey development.“More than most anybody else I’ve ever met, he understood that connection. And he embraced that connection and that connection drove him to do what he did.”

Doug Dietz, USA Hockey’s Central District coach-in-chief, added, “Hockey is made up of players, coaches, and volunteers all working together to advance the game. Jimmy was one of the rare individuals that tied those groups together and made it a true community. He left his mark on the coaching education program, and it has been an honor to both work with him and learn from him. He is the gold standard of volunteers.”

Clare’s philosophy of giving players the best experience through better coaches has had a massive impact because he was able to take a step back and understand how something so simple could improve the experience of playing youth hockey for so many. He could instill his values with one team or at one club or association, or he could spread those ideas through training coaches and have a far bigger impact. He was constantly learning so that his teaching was current to make sure coaches and kids were getting the very best training.

“There’s a huge responsibility to be a leader or coach,” Jablonic said. “Jimmy really took that to heart every time. There are a lot of people across the U.S.that have been impacted by Jimmy, his passion for the game and his way of putting things in perspective and always keeping it focused on the kids. He always found a way to connect with each coach on their journey and really let them know what they do matters, but how they do it matters more.”

The focus on keeping the game fun is what Mancini remembers most about Clare. Mancini said talking about Clare automatically brought a smile to his face. 

“Every dealing with Jim reminded me that hockey is fun,” Mancini said.“Hockey is supposed to be fun, and you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself any time you were around Jim. He had a great smile. He lit up a room. No matter how difficult the task was, or how many obstacles were put in his way, he found ways to do it to overcome those obstacles and to overcome those obstacles with a smile on his face.

“The Walter Yaciuk Award is a fitting honor for a man who fundamentally loved the game of hockey, had it in every fiber of his being and loved — and maybe more than loved, appreciated — hockey at every level.”

Every player remembers a coach that challenged them, but cared about them and helped them fall in love with hockey. Clare himself was that for many players at AHAI. But what makes his legacy so remarkable is that he shared his approach with so many others over the years, ensuring a vast network of fun, caring, empathetic and smart coaches would carry on the spirit that Clare embodied and will continue to do so for many years to come. 

“He was a great human. He was just a good person. He was warm. He was caring,” Mancini said. “He cared about hockey and cared about hockey players. He cared a lot about coaching and coaching education. And he was relentless in his pursuit to do things the right way. He pushed people around him to be better.”

Despite his many commitments, Jablonic said Clare was infinitely giving of his time and had a knack for slowing things down and focusing on the players. He always had time to answer questions, give advice, talk hockey, learn more and lend a helping hand. He was never satisfied that he knew enough. And he brought that same energy and that same love for the game into every facet of hockey — youth, girls, coaching, being a fan and being a father. He was a good friend, a great coach and an inspiring mentor who is deeply missed. 

Jablonic said Clare raised the bar for hockey coaches across America.

“Our game is in a much better place because we had Jimmy Clare,” Jablonicconcluded. “I can’t think of anybody more well deserving to win our highest coaching award through USA Hockey.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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