Hockey is the common thread that connects us all.
From urban centers to remote rural areas the dream of one day playing in the NHL is shared.
Hockey becomes a conduit; it shapes our lives and experiences, but the journey to the NHL is seldom reached or realized.
James Sanford had most all of his hockey dreams come true.
The exceptionally talented kid from Alma, New Brunswick played under the bright lights of professional hockey for the better part of a decade before injuries ended his career.
Sanford is now embarking on a different avenue in the game with a mission in mind, making the game better and helping young aspiring players reach their full potential.
Sanford was hired by the Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Hockey League yesterday as an Assistant Coach.
“It’s a great opportunity for me here in Campbellton,” Sanford said proudly.
“I can’t thank Kevin Mitchell enough for giving me the opportunity to get my foot in the door.”
“I can’t wait to get started and get to work.”
James Sanford and the game of hockey have and will be forever connected.
“I love the game, and it’s great to get into the higher levels and junior atmosphere again,” added Sanford, who coached at the Major Bantam level in Cape Breton for the last few seasons.
What does a coaching opportunity like this mean to Sanford and where does he see himself in the coaching world in a few years?
“It’s great to have the opportunity to work with people like Sandy McCarthy and the Campbellton Tigers organization.”
“Right now, I’m focusing on this season with the Tigers and trying to learn more about the craft and learn as much as I can, I’ll see how everything plays out from there.”
“As for down the road, I’m just looking forward to this year and this opportunity,” explained Sanford.
Sanford’s professional career wasn’t linear to say the least.
The savvy puck moving offensive defenceman experienced playing the game across the world.
There’s no question Sanford experienced his share of ups and downs throughout his journey in the game.
Through it all the proud New Brunswicker remained mindful of all his experiences especially taking away the positive attributes and philosophies from the coaches that had the greatest impact on his path in the pros.
“It’s all about communication, that’s at the heart of my coaching philosophy,” stressed Sanford.
“In this day and age you have to talk to the players.”
“You have to talk to these kids, especially with social media and all the things that are out there.”
“There’s a lot of pressure and anxieties for them, it’s really important to let them know where they stand and be accountable.”
“As a player when I came through, that was one area that I thought was missing with a lot of my coaches.”
“There wasn’t enough communication,” stressed Sanford.
“I take a lot of pride in the way I communicate and I’ve seen the results over the past few years with players and kids really buying into that understanding and concept.”
“When things are open and there’s good communication kids buy into that philosophy and they really start playing for each other,” Sanford said.
What did Sanford learn as a coach and a person during his time in the Nova Scotia Major Bantam Hockey League?
“I can’t thank the Joneljim Cougars and Graham Quinn enough for the opportunity down there.”
“I learned so much about being a head coach there, from getting your staff on the same page and making sure things are going in the right direction,” admitted Sanford.
“People underestimate how good the major bantam league is in Nova Scotia and how good the coaching is and the quality of players in that league.”
“The opportunity I had in Cape Breton was amazing.”
“That experience gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Sanford was very well received during his time in Cape Breton and made a concerted effort to change the cultural aspects of the game in that region.
The Cougars were well on their way to making considerable progress at last years Provincial Championship when the tournament was cancelled due to the horrific COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very humbling to hear positive feedback from players and their families,” Sanford said.
“I really tried to do my best to help out everyone I could during my time down there.”
The opportunity to jump to the Maritime Junior A ranks as an Assistant Coach isn’t lost on Sanford.
He understands the importance of the opportunity especially given the history of the league and how some coaches have used their time in the MHL as a stepping stone to pros.
“This is what I want to do.”
“This opportunity is everything for me.”
“I love the game, I want to coach and I want to make these kids better,” said a reflective Sanford.
“I love seeing a team come together and have success.”
“I love seeing players have success individually on and off the ice.”
“It’s great seeing kids grow as human beings, it’s great to be a part of that process.”
“I want to help kids that might be struggling or have things going on. I have been through those things and looking back now I may not have necessarily had enough support.”
“I want to help these kids wade through these years, it’s an interesting time for them, there’s definitely room to grow.”
“I want to help them anyway I can,” Sanford said.
Sanford’s experience in the game will undoubtedly benefit the Campbellton Tigers in a multitude of different ways.
“I understand the day to day pressure and stress these kids are under.”
“Sometimes people forget that they are just kids, and sometimes they are dealing with adult problems, so they have to mature quickly.”
“They need support and the fact that I’ve gone through that and that I can relate to how they feel, I will try to help these kids reach their full potential and have that confidence moving forward being the best players and people they can be,” explained Sanford.
James Sanford experienced all the highs and lows of junior and professional hockey.
His new mission in the game is about begin.
It’s a different avenue, but he’s approaching it with the same unwavering passion as did as a player.