A new hire by the Humboldt Broncos will have players’ backs as they navigate the life of a junior A hockey player – while also dealing with a tragedy’s aftermath.
Mark Popovic will serve as the team’s director of personal development and leadership.
“My role with the team will be working with them as a whole – and also individually – to build their leadership skills and really focus on wherever they want to go with academics. And it’s somebody outside their coaching staff that they can lean on and talk to when they need somebody,” he said.
Players will also have other avenues available to them as well, as the club has partnered with Partners Family Services.
“We wanted to make sure that there are wrap around supports here for the team and for the organization as a whole,” said Hayley Kennedy, Partners’ executive director. “Our goal is to support Mark in the work that he’s doing directly here with the team as well as the organization as a whole. So if there are problems or difficulties that are identified those people have a point of access where they can get those services as quickly as possible.”
Popovic joins the Broncos organization after a 15-year professional career, which included stops in the NHL, AHL, Russia, Switzerland and Austria.
He comes knowing both head coach Nathan Oystrick and assistant coach Scott Barney, as all three were members of the 2005-06 Chicago Wolves. Oystrick played two games after joining the team following his senior season at Northern
Michigan University, Barney appeared in 53 games with the Wolves that season, while Popovic suited up in 73.
Having played pro hockey for a number of years, Popovic said he expects to bring a unique approach to his new position, saying he often thinks about how he could have helped himself when he was that age.
“I needed someone outside my parents who, they’re going to love me unconditionally, and outside of the team. Someone I can just talk about whatever I needed to talk about.”
He feels having someone on staff who the players can talk to, but isn’t a coach, is important.
“You never want to seem vulnerable around your teammates or coaching staff. The coaching staff holds ice time and these other things, even if they’re the best people on earth, you sometimes don’t feel comfortable enough to open up about those things,” he said.
Popovic said he will serve in whatever role the players ask of him, saying if they want to talk hockey he can do that and if they need to just talk he will do that too.
“I’m a hockey skills nerd so if they want to talk hockey, I’ll be watching every game,” he said. “If they want to talk about where they want to go in life and helping them outside with academics, let’s go there. If they just need to call and talk about whatever, I’m there 24/7 for them.”