SNIPETOWN
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Chris Robinson

Fulltime // Turning Passion into Profit

Chris Robinson, Juggernaut Sports Inc.

The route from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn is a relatively straight drive of about six hours, unless you happen to make stops in Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Japan along the way, in which case it will take considerably longer. Such is the long and winding road taken by Juggernaut Sports owner Chris Robinson.


MY APPROACH

When you get hit, you either shut down or you wake up. Well it woke me up. I enjoyed it. I embraced it. I loved it. What I want to teach are the physical aspects. Not just the defensive side but the physical part of the game, learning how to angle and to separate. The teaching of skills is necessary, but a lot of places teach them, and I do as well, but I want to teach how to take and give a check. I believe there’s value in that. Not every coach knows how to teach that.

Hitting isn’t about destroying your opponent, but separating them from the puck. Not just the how, but the why.

We teach all levels, all ages, and with the younger kids, mites and squirts, we teach them how to be physical without checking, since it’s not allowed at their age. But the game is physical and separation is part of the game. Angling, for example. It’s a simple idea: Learning how to push players from areas where ice is abundant to where it’s scarce. And realizing that if your team doesn’t have the puck, you’re all on defense. 

Before a parent signs a kid up for a battle camp, I make sure they know what they’re signing up for. We’ll spend some time on skills, but the majority of the time will be on the competitive side, focusing on small area battles, adding in a few rules and watching the competitive level rise. The parents know. And if their kid isn’t ready, they’ll tell me. Frankly, I thought I’d have to sell it more, but I haven’t. And when the kids hear about it, they’re in.

THE BUSINESS

I held my first camp at Aviator in Brooklyn where I was coaching. My goal was to rent some ice time, put out the word, see what happens. That first camp, we had 35 to 40 kids. I didn’t expect that. 

Since I can only be at one place at one time, I now have four coaches that I bring in for camps, clinics, off-ice clinics. It evolved into a beautiful balance: the kids learn, the coaches get paid, and I’m turning a profit, so the business works.

GOALS

Short term: New programming to show growth, adding extra camps. Medium term: Bring the concept to other cities. Go back to Pittsburgh, for instance. Growing up, traveling, playing, I’ve built quite a network. Long term: Move outside of hockey. It’s called Juggernaut Sports, not Juggernaut Hockey. Personally, I strive to become a better athlete, not just a better hockey player. So let’s bring the same mentality to football, basketball. Retrofit it to make it beneficial for an athlete in another sport. From a business point of view, that’s the biggest jump. To transcend hockey, that would be stellar. 

WISDOM

I’m a huge believer that people serve functions. Each role has its value. It transcends sports.

When major corporations look to hire, they look for people that have played team sports because of their ability to understand roles and to work with other people. Learning accountably, it’s the beauty of sports.

HOW I GOT HERE

I grew up in Pittsburgh where I played AA and AAA hockey. My dad gets a call and tells me I’ve been scouted by Honeybaked, a prestigious organization in Detroit. I’m 12 years old. Me and my dad decide to move to Michigan, leaving my mom and sister in Pittsburgh. We had to find a place to live, a new school...finding out what sacrifices I was willing to make to play hockey.

Then things got complicated. My first year in Detroit I get drafted into two leagues, the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, and the Danville Wings of the North American Hockey league. As my father put it to me, ‘you have the choice between playing with a low level professional team, with high exposure and high talent, or the play juniors and go the college route.’ At 14, a surreal experience.

At the same time, I’m asked to try out for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. I passed the first stage of tryouts, but after the second stage, they tell me the spot went to another defensemen from Honeybaked, Matt Hunwick (later drafted by the Bruins and currently playing for the Maple Leafs).

With the help of a family advisor, Pat Peake, I choose the college route and the NAHL, Danville. The idea was to use hockey to get an education, have that as a fallback.

So we move to Danville, a small town in Illinois and because I was underage, I was guaranteed to dress for every game, every weekend. You can’t draft kids to keep them from being signed by other teams. I thought that was a huge plus. They had a great defensive coach and gave me every chance to develop.

After my 2nd year, they started putting me in a role I didn’t want to accept, as a stay-at-home defenseman, keeping me away from offensive situations. 

One particular game, I was furious, my mom saw I was angry and told me that no great decisions would come from that. Calm down, she said, decide what you want to say and then walk in and see if they agree. They listened but I didn’t see a change and I didn’t want to get typecast. I decided it was time for me to move on. I walked in and asked for a trade. I was 16. 

I graduated high school, packed up, and drove back to Detroit, thinking, ‘Where am I going to go?” 

Then we get a call from the head coach ofthe Lincoln Stars in Nebraska. “We just acquired you in a trade with Danville,” he says.

I knew the organization but had never played there before. A very different atmosphere: packed house, light show, intense.  My first game, I’m in the starting lineup, and I could not believe the energy in the arena. Turned out to be a great move.

Towards the end of my two years in Lincoln, I realized I was getting burnt out. It hit me. I hit a wall, I was fatigued. I remember when I went from Honeybaked to NAHL, the game quickly shifted into a business. My best friend got traded. Gone. It hit me hard. They see us as pawns to move. It became too much of a grind. 

I still had one more year to go but I told my dad, I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to move on. I wanted to go to school.

An assistant from the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, had come to a few of my games, telling me, ‘You’re going to play good hockey and you’re going to have fun.’ And, it was affordable.

I became a better player there than I ever was. I was playing at my best when the pressure was no longer there. At college, the pressure to play well was always there, but it was removed. I could breathe again. I had a social life. I actually wound up teaching a break dancing class.

I started out as a business management major but changed to corporate communications after I took my firstspeech class. Along with teaching break dancing, I realized I liked instructing.

After River Falls, I went to Japan to teach Englishfor a few months, and when I saw progress in my students, and realized I was a part of it, that clued me in to what I wanted to do.

I wound up coming to finish school in New York, and I’ve been here ever since.•

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