Guest Post: LIVE your Hockey Career by Ilan Cumberbirch

The purpose of this blog is to get unfiltered, beyond the basics, REAL information to younger players who can make use of it. It was with this in mind that I’ve asked various teammates, past and present, to write some guest blog posts for me. As a young player, I constructed my knowledge of what a hockey career looks like from stories. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have access to stories of players going into college when I was PeeWee, because I didn’t know anyone doing that. If you don’t have a personal connection with someone at a different part of their hockey career than you, you really only have access to the stories your teammates tell you. I’m happy that there are more articles coming out online that provide younger players and less experienced parents with information and stories that can inform their path.

It is kind of daunting to throw your ideas out onto the world wide web for all to see and appraise, so I haven’t had any takers on the guest post, until now…

Enter Ilan Cumberbirch:


Ilan, Cumby, Cumbario, is a close friend of mine and was my teammate at UBC for my first three years as a Thunderbird. He is known for his humour, big personality, and big heart…oh and probably his hair. He has written a post on how to LIVE your hockey career. Ilan is on a similar path to my own in that he is pursuing, what for most, appears to be an unclear career path as a hockey/strength and conditioning coach. Ilan is smart, graduating from UBC with a B.Sc in Kinesiology. What I like about this post is that it incorporates stories of his own struggles and uses it to suggest solid advice to players at any point of their career. It’s also impressive that he is able to expose himself with confidence and candor, while maintaining his humour and charm.

Thanks to Ilan, Enjoy!

LIVE your Hockey Career

I am currently sitting at my living room table in Geleen, Netherlands, listening to a Tim Ferris podcast, baking a sweet potatoe for my pregame meal, and contemplating how to begin my first ever blog post.

I’ve been toying with this since Jason asked me a couple weeks ago, contemplating how to approach it, from what perspective will be most relative for the reader, and how my life in hockey can be of some sort of literary stimulation and (hopefully) entertainment to you the reader…. Much like my hockey career; I’m diving in head first, unknowing what the outcome may be or how it will conclude.

My position in the game of hockey has been relatively diverse. Since the age of 5 I have been a student of the game, being taught by some of the most knowledgeable, and arguably some of the least knoweldgeable “teachers” of the game. I played my minor hockey for the Vancouver Thunderbirds Minor Hockey Association (VTMHA), which at the time was not known for being a hockey powerhouse by any means. Garnering the majority of their players from the west side of Vancouver, to most, hockey was considered a recreational activity to be played until it was time to “grow up” “get serious” and pursue some form of high eduation. Having said that, I grew up with a relatively unique demographic of kids, many of whom I’m still good friends with today, many of whom are highly successful individuals in worlds far removed from hockey.

I give credit to my time spent with this crew throughout my adolescence for shaping me into the individual I am today: My respect for the game, value in developing not only athletes but human beings, ability to work with others, personal sacrifice, commitment to something bigger than myself, and an appreciation for the countless man hours volunteered by parents who many times had much better things to do than wake up at 4:30 AM on a weekday to watch me trundle around an ice rink half asleep. All of these elements makeup the person I am today, and now as I approach the end of my career I feel it is my job to give back to the game and help develop the next generation. What is important to take away from these aforementioned points are not how they relate to hockey, but how they relate to life and human development…but we will touch more on this later.

These lessons and general codes of conduct were engrained in us, the players, from a young age, and they soon carried over to our later lives. For many that was at university, or their respective careers. For myself, I decided to put off school and continued to pursue hockey. After playing for the Grandview Steelers in my Grade 12 year at Prince of Wales Secondary, I went on to play briefly for the Westside Warriors, Burnaby Express and Surrey Eagles of the BCHL.* This was a real eye opener for the privileged kid from Vancouver who until now had not left home to play hockey, and was now under the eye of an entirely new brigade of coaching staffs, management, ownership and the business side of hockey. In my opinion, my inability to conquer my constant anxiety, nervousness, and the pressures which I brought upon myself to attain an NCAA Div 1 scholarship hindered my junior career. Even in my final year as the captain of the Surrey Eagles, my self-confidence was never at a level necessary for optimal performance, leading to passive tendencies, low risk plays, and mediocre performances. I remember my 19th birthday, sitting in bed at my billet parents, wondering if one of the schools I had been talking to would ever offer me a scholarship, wondering why I was playing the game, if I was better off to quit and go to school like the majority of my friends from school had done. Luckily, to culminate my almost 20-year career, I managed to commit to the historic University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

As previously mentioned, there’s a lot of down time, cooking, cleaning, reading, podcasts, ebooks, South Park/History Channel and time at the gym.

Two nights ago we were informed that our season was most likely over. This news was brought to us 2 hours before taking on the Tilburg Trappers….we ended up losing 15-3, ouch.

Last night we got called to the rink for yet another meeting. After our president resigned via Facebook at 3:30 AM, the rest of the board members along with some other heavy hitting donors managed to come up with the money necessary to play out the rest of the season in under a day. So here I am, yet again sitting in the living room, listening to the hum of the laundry machine, eating some sausage and olives from the market, with some sureness of my future in Holland.

The two years I spent in Saskatoon were some of the most memorable, educational, and also some of the darkest and hardest times of my life. I only managed to get into 3 regular season games my first year and ended up parting ways with the club halfway through my second year despite staying on as a practice player. I wound up playing with the Senior Men’s team, Davidson Cyclones of the Long Lake Hockey League and won a Provincial Championship, so not all was lost. I also won a Native Stanley Cup twice over with “Jeans Beans” while listening to players trade stories about the best and worst penitentiaries around Canada…..I felt safe with them on my side while getting told that I the “white boy” was a “dead man”, talk about an eye opener**.

My competitive nature and longing desire to play in real competition led to me finishing my CIS career with The University of British Columbia. Far from a decorated career in the CIS, I wrapped up my university playing days at UBC and was honored as a graduating player in a home game against The Huskies. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. I was out with a bad concussion, yet before presenting me with my photo and snapping a couple pictures, the entire U of S team came through and we shook hands, hugged, laughed, and exchanged friendly fire. It’s moments like that which make me love the culture engrained in hockey and have kept me in it for this long; it’s the abilities of the hockey family to recognize that at the end of the day, it is only a game, and the friendships and experiences and bonds formed over those experiences are what make it so special. Never forget the relationships and friendships you’ve formed during your career, you don’t get many of them so hold them close to your chest.

Following my university playing days I thought I was going to hang them up due to lingering head issues, however midway through August I was approached by the Limburg Eaters in Holland to come and play. It was quite the whirlwind 24 hours as they apparently wanted an answer sooner rather than later. I had been training all summer, as my job in the off season is with Factory Hockey Player Development as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey players, so I was as physically ready as I would ever be. Mentally, was another issue; would my head be ok? Did I still love the game? Was it worth travelling halfway around the world to uproot my life, put my relationship with my girlfriend in jeopardy with the long distance and separate myself from the life I knew at home? After speaking with the individuals in my life whom I respected the most, both within and outside the hockey world, I decided to follow my life long aspirations of playing professional hockey in Europe.

For me it was a decision based much more on the life experiences than the hockey, a chance to see the world, and experience a different culture first hand. To date it has been a whirlwind to say the least. I came over unsure of whether or not we had the financial backing to begin the season, then not having enough teams for competition, possibly joining the German competition, league beginning, potentially going bankrupt, president stepping down from the club and the future looking darker than it ever had, our team being saved by some outside sources and the town of Geleen and province of Limburg being on cloud nine. Coming over with an open mindset and 0 expectations having heard of all the European horror stories, I’ve been able to take the majority of these issues in stride and haven’t regretted one bit of it.

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday. I just finished my third set of pushups and rotator cuff strengthening. I prepped some “yogurt parfait” if you will; Greek yogurt, muesli, chia seed, hemp seed, goji berries, wheat grass, grapes, bananas, kiwi, and some maple syrup layered into a tupper ware.

After a late night chatting with my girlfriend I woke up today around 10:00 and proceeded to fry some sweet potatoes, red peppers, cherry tomatoes and spinach with some scrambled eggs on top and a tasty little instant coffee to top it off. My roommate Mario/Luigi/Luig/Lui/Lu and I followed that up with a brisk game day walk.

What the future holds for me – I’m not sure. What I do know is that I’ll play out this season in Geleen, and hopefully hang a banner and hoist a cup. By then I’ll have enough money set aside to travel around Europe and most likely hang up my skates as far as competitive hockey goes. My role in hockey will definitely change, as will my perspective on the game. Having coached numerous teams in the past and being an off ice coach to young hockey players since the age of 16, I plan to pursue my career as a strength and conditioning coach. Be that with my current employer, Factory Hockey Player Development or on my own, it is the one avenue that I am not only experienced and educated in, but passionate about, with a strong desire to spread my infectious passion and enthusiasm to every client, player, mother, father and coach that steps foot in my work place.

So, we lost the game last night. I managed to score my second goal of the season (career high) after Tom Marx hit me just over the blue line and blew one past the goalie like a young Nick Lidstrom (I wish). It is always fun to have success in the home barn, the fans are amazing and it was an especially significant night seeing as the club had been saved. They also auctioned my jersey off, I was a little disappointed I fell 5 euro short of going price for Adam Hartley’s….Post game was upstairs in the VIP followed by The Cross, where sleeves of beer and peanuts fly around as fast as cigarettes can be inhaled and darts can be thrown. Today was a slow day, lots of couch time, a conference call with The Factory boys, a good business chat with my Dad and Mexican night at Rene and Henriette’s.

Looking back I can honestly say I feel a sense of pride in where I stand today. Although I took the road less travelled to where I am today, and it was far less glamorous than I had anticipated, the lessons of resiliency, commitment, hard work and paying one’s due diligence led to me being able to achieve my lifelong goal of playing “pro” hockey in Europe.

If there were a few rules/guidelines/words of advice for players out there today both young and old they’d go as follows:

1) Set goals, frequently. The acronym of developing SMART goals as corny and cliche as it may sound it’s true. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals keep one’s life on track. Don’t get me wrong, paving your own road and falling off the rails will happen and should happen from time to time to serve as a bit of a reality check or a way for one to take a critical look at themselves. Having said that, creating a list of both short term and long term goals, and a plan for how you’re going to attain those goals is a MUST! Personally, I love to keep lists, day to day tasks, and I get great joy when I’m able to cross something off my list. As far as my current goals, I want to continue to educate myself in the strength and conditioning industry, one day own my own company, and eventually my own Athlete Development Mecca for all ranges of athletes.

2) Stay active. Exercise is an amazing tool, not only for one’s physical health but more importantly their mental health. During my time in Saskatoon when I was no more than a name in a stall taking reps in practice and longing for some game action, I turned into a workout animal. It become a little bit obsessive, spending hours in the gym on a daily basis. It was also a coping mechanism for me that helped me to deal with the personal struggles I was dealing with at that time. Whether it be in the gym, yoga studio, trails, or some other form of cross training, find a way in and out of season to relieve your stress and free your mind and keep your physical health on point.

3) Communication. Do not assume and do not be afraid to ask questions or for advice. Far too often throughout my career I would show up at the rink and see myself buried on the fourth defensive pairing. Instead of approaching the coach and asking what I can do to improve my game, analyze some film and work myself into the lineup, I eventually began getting complacent with my situation and “threw in the towel” per se. If you want something, go and get it. Put in the extra work away from the rink, before and after practice, and show why and how you can help your team.

4) Keep things in perspective. Contrary to my last point, don’t put too much weight on hockey. Yes, you love the game, you want to play, you want to make it to the NHL or whatever your personal aspirations may be. However, at the end of the day it is a “game” which is meant to me “played”. There are far more important things in life than how many minutes you may or may not play on any given game night. If you have your health, family, and friendships – life isn’t that bad. Be grateful that you have the privilege to play the game, so when you get the opportunity, play it hard.

5) Live. As ambiguous and obscure as this may sound make sure you live YOUR life. There’s a reason you are where you are today in the situation you’re in. Can you influence and shape your path? 100%. By utilizing goal setting, a healthy body and mind, strong communication skills and a positive outlook on the big picture, all the pieces to your puzzle will fall into place. Quality individuals recognize strong characteristics and personalities in others. Your hard work, persistence, and determination to be the best version of yourself that you can be do not go unnoticed. So instead of dwelling on the shit you might be stuck in currently, believe that the road ahead will sort itself out and take the time to live your life out one day, one step, one breath at a time, and forge onward.

These 5 points are applicable to all realms of life, be they at the rink, in the boardroom, or with your family. For myself, the game of hockey has given me the opportunity to realize them, and I’ll carry them with me for the rest of my life in all of my future endeavours.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post. Hopefully I’ve been able to give you some insight into my life pertaining to hockey. If you’re a coach or educator reading this, no matter what avenue you might be working in be it hockey or not, I humbly ask that you keep these points in mind. Help your students/athletes be the best version of themselves that they can be in all elements of their life.

If you have any other questions, concerns, insight or just want to chat please do not hesitate to contact me…and keep an eye on this Jason Yee kid – he’s an extremely intelligent and driven individual who is going to achieve big things in life, whatever avenue he ends up pursuing.


Ilan Cumberbirch

Instagram: @ilancumberbirch

Twitter: @cumbario

*Ben Lubinizki and the staff at Prince of Wales have developed an extremely successful hockey academy which I am extremely grateful for and was lucky enough to be a part of for all 5 years of high school.

**Despite being morally and ethically corrupt, at the time, the prize money for winning this tournament that Jean and his squad were offering us was far too appealing to turn down at the end of the school year when funds got tight. The stories are endless.


Published by

Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

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