Live Like a King

For Redondo Beach resident Calvin Vachon, it’s just another day at the beach when he’s on the ice at the Toyota Sports Center.

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  • Written by
    Suzanna Cullen Hamilton
  • Photographed by
    Jeff Berting

Calvin Vachon was ice skating by the time he was 3 years old, but that’s not surprising since his father and grandfather have long National Hockey League (NHL) associations. Calvin’s dad, Nick Vachon, is a coach and the general manager of the Los Angeles Junior Kings— a considerable step taken in 2016 by the NHL L.A. Kings to oversee the development of the sport in Southern California.

“The decision by Kings president of business operations and alternate governor Luc Robitaille and L.A. Kings GM Rob Blake to create a formal association with the Los Angeles Kings is a tremendous opportunity for our youth as hockey grows in Southern California,” says Nick. The Los Angeles Junior Kings now have 28 teams with more than 420 players in the program.

Nick grew up in the world of professional hockey as the son of legendary goalie Rogie Vachon, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and L.A. Kings. Nick was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and played for the New York Islanders before transitioning as a coach for the Junior Kings. Now Calvin, age 12, is following in the family footsteps as a goalie for the Junior Kings Pee Wee AAA Major team.

When Calvin started playing hockey at age 5, Nick put him in various positions including a forward and a defensive player. “However, by the time he was 8 he had a natural ability and was extremely quick in accomplishing things at the net that kids that age aren’t developed to accomplish, such as splits in saves,” says Nick. Calvin replies, “I always thought that defending the goal was more fun.”

When Calvin’s not in school, he’s on the ice. He practices with the team three times a week, has goalie clinics two times each week, and spends time in strength and conditioning training sessions. Even in middle school, these elite-level hockey players are working on sprints and plyometrics to attain short-burst maximum speed and force.

The junior hockey season is long and includes several large tournaments throughout the year. For the past 15 years the Junior Kings have been invited to the elite International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament in Quebec. It’s an invitation-only tournament for the 12-year-old age bracket that includes 125 teams that play over a 10-day tournament. “It’s like an immersion program for the kids because they stay with Québéquois families in what becomes a cultural exchange program,” says Nick.

Even though they’re playing hockey every day, the players have time to see the city and experience a different lifestyle. “When I go, I try to learn a few new words and try a few new foods,” says Calvin.

He might only be in middle school, but Calvin speaks like a seasoned player when he discusses the psychology of playing in elite tournaments. “Hockey is fun, so when I’m on the ice, I’m focused and I think about all the good things that are going to happen.”

“Calvin maintains his composure on the ice like a much older player,” Nick says, “because he’s able to give both verbal and physical direction to his defense.”

So how does Calvin stay grounded with such a family legacy and so much time committed to hockey? “My mom says if I don’t do well in school, then I can’t play hockey,” says Calvin.

Nick and his wife, Renee, spend a lot of time around the sport, but they balance that with daughter Chloe’s dance and gymnastics involvement as well as family time in the South Bay. “In the spring I play baseball, and in the summer I like to hang out with my friends at the beach,” says Calvin.

As hockey in Southern California heats up, the paths to the NHL become varied through both junior hockey and college programs. The NHL has had six draft picks from Southern California in the past few years, including three former Junior Kings.

“We are fortunate to have a nationally recognized program that develops student athletes at all levels, and we’re committed to instilling teamwork, commitment and a passion for the game, because those are life skills that translate off the ice and are more important than winning and losing,” says Nick.

Southern California junior hockey has become so strong, it hosts showcase exhibition weekends. However, under the guidance of Nick as the GM with the Kings involved in the decision-making and development, junior hockey in Los Angeles is being cultivated under an umbrella that is committed to developing young athletes both mentally and physically. “There’s always a lot going on, but it’s all good and fun,” says Calvin.

Watch the NHL roster in a few years; the name Vachon will likely be on the back of a jersey.”

Calvin’s Year in Health

How I spend my free time:

“I don’t have a lot of free time after school and hockey, but when I do I like to hang out with my friends. We go to the beach a lot in the summer, so that’s a good change.”

Extra benefits to hockey:

Dad Nick: “We love the travel and the tournaments. Not only is it fun, but the kids are exposed to new places, new people and new opportunities. It also requires being in good physical condition, and it requires the commitment of time management—two things that we feel are really beneficial to kids.”

How we stay safe:

“Hockey equipment—including helmets, pads and sticks—is constantly evolving and improving even at the junior hockey level. Obviously, safety is always the primary concern, but we also ensure that our jerseys and uniforms look professional.”