By Marina Marich, Evanston Hockey Board Member
As a sophomore playing for the Evanston Wildkits varsity hockey team, goalie Delayon “Del” Morris refused to allow strep throat and a 99 degree fever to prevent him from playing against Evanston’s rivals: New Trier Green. And it’s a good thing because he and his Evanston teammates beat New Trier 3-2 that day on the Trevian’s home ice in front of a packed rink.
“There was nothing like beating the best team in the state and the feeling I had after the game was over,” said Coach Del. “I did get in trouble with my mom for playing the game when I was told not to, but it was worth it for the love of the game.”
It’s this love of the game that continues to fuel Coach Del today as the hockey director for Evanston Hockey and coach of the boys’ varsity team. This fall, he will also serve as head coach of the Squirt 1 team. He witnesses firsthand the love of the game developing in the youngest players as well as some rather impressive skills on the ice.
Coach Del says that youth hockey has made huge strides over recent years. He added that kids at young ages are learning the concepts of the game and that basic skills have expanded into more complex skills. With evolving technology, like lighter and more flexible sticks, and better understanding of child psychology, hockey coaches are able to explain and practice more difficult skills players need to play the game at a higher level.
He wants players to focus on strengthening their basic skills to help build a solid foundation. For example, improving skills so they can perform them at higher speeds. He said he wants players “to fall in love with the game and to develop an ‘I can’ philosophy when it comes to trying new things and attempting difficult tasks with speed.”
An Evanstonian, Coach Del started playing hockey as a five year old after going ice skating during a summer sports camp, played through juniors and continues to play today. As a youth player, he was goalie on the travel team and played defense on a house team in order to get more ice time. In addition to playing for the Evanston Wildkits, he also played one year each for the Park Ridge Express and Notre Dame High School, returning to play with the Evanston varsity hockey team for three years before playing for the New Mexico Ice Breakers in Albuquerque after high school.
Over the years, he’s received several coaching awards, most recently being named the Illinois High School Hockey League (IHSHL) varsity coach of the year for the 2014-15 season. He was also named a Chicago Blackhawks Coach of the Month in 2012.
His coaching philosophy comes down to hard work and having fun.
“I believe the harder you work in this game the more fun you will have,” said Coach Del. “Hard work promotes skill development, and when new skills are achieved players tend to succeed more. I look for 100 percent, 100 percent of the time.”
He stressed that his mission is to provide a safe, fun and competitive atmosphere in hopes hockey becomes a life-long sport in each child’s life. This aligns with Evanston Hockey’s mission to provide a program that’s rooted in skill development, sportsmanship, outstanding coaching, leadership skills, strong character development and camaraderie.
“Kids have more fun when in competitive situations, and competitive situations occur more when everyone is working as hard as they can,” said Coach Del. “The overall goal is fun and skill development through fun and competitive drills. I want kids to play hockey well into their adulthood, and I feel this type of connection to the game is made as a child.”
It’s no surprise that he believes that skating is the most important skill kids can learn, and that the more options they have to skate at a young age, the better skaters they will become. Kids who play in the travel program have three practices a week, providing them with a solid foundation.
For kids interested in playing hockey in high school or college, he recommends playing as much hockey as possible to ensure the skating skills are top-notch. He said that current members of the Evanston varsity hockey team started playing hockey as mites and most in the Evanston program.
As hockey director for Evanston Hockey, he has been determined to find more ways for kids to get on the ice to develop those skills. Since being named director, he has added more skills practices during winter breaks; a two-week spring development camp for all levels; a mini-camp in July to get kids prepared for the fall; and a “dog days” camp in August to prepare for conditioning and tryouts.
“With all the extra ice time kids are benefiting from, kids are coming into the season stronger and more knowledgeable about the game than ever before,” said Coach Del. “The program continues to get stronger, and we’re giving players more opportunities than ever before to improve their skills.”
- Started coaching at New England College with the women’s DIII hockey program
- Earned a master’s degree in elementary education, and was a teacher for a number of years
- Went to school for photography and especially enjoys commercial photography
- Certified personal trainer
- Favorite hockey team is the Pittsburgh Penguins, favorite all-time player is Mario Lemieux and favorite current player is Sidney Crosby