A little about Derek Popke

nhl consultant, sports radio host, minor hockey mentor

Derek Popke is the founder and president of Vancouver Hockey School Ltd. As a hockey skating consultant, Popke has worked on-ice with the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs (2009-2014), ECHL Victoria Salmon Kings, BCHL Surrey Eagles and Penticton Vees, MML GV Canadians, and numerous minor hockey associations. In 2009, a record 19 players who skate with Popke were drafted in the WHL Bantam Draft. As one of the lower mainland's most respected skating coaches, over 50 of Popke's skating clients have been selected in the NHL draft in the past 7 years. His focus remains teaching balance, speed, and power both with and without the puck. In 2012, he was named host of Minor Hockey Talk on Sportstalk CISL AM-650. Most recently, he was a key note speaker on hockey skating at The Coaches Site Coaching Conference featuring top coaches from around the world.

Derek's current projects

Vancouver Hockey School

British Columbia's premier hockey school offering programs for minor hockey, junior, and pro. @vanhockeyschool

Minor Hockey Talk

Weekly radio segment hosted on Canada's longest running radio talk show SPORTSTALK AM-650

Kodiaks Hockey Ass.

Non-profit spring hockey program focusing on the development of youth hockey players. @KodiaksHockey


Derek in the press

Derek has been featured in numerous local and national press publications in Canada and the USA for his work in player development including The Globe and Mail, The Province, Vancouver Sun, Richmond News, Hockey Now, and STACK Magazine.

Derek is available for media interviews on all hockey and sports related topics.

Bruce Brown - Positive Role Models

Derek on the Radio

Derek Popke - Minor Hockey Development


  • Canucks hone skills with Skating Coach

    By Matthew Hoekstra – Richmond Review


    For young hockey-starved fans, it was like Christmas in August. They excitedly bounced around outside a Richmond Ice Centre rink Friday, occasionally calling out “Bieksa!” when the star NHL player skated past.




















    The Vancouver Canucks defenceman flashed them a few smiles, flicking pucks in their direction before getting down to business.

    Joining him on the ice for a conditioning session with skating coach Derek Popke were Jason Garrison, Chris Higgins and Dale Weise.

    Popke said more and more NHL players are moving away from group training sessions and moving to individual or small group instruction to hone their skills. He began working with Garrison, once a member of the Richmond Sockeyes, and other players have since come on board.


    “They want to use the off-season to improve their individual skills leading into camp,” he said. “If you can give them a little detail on something that will give them that extra inch to get ahead of the competition in the league, that’s what they come here for.”

    The Canucks’ Prospects Training Camp and the Young Stars Classic Tournament begins Sept. 4 in Penticton, while veterans report to Rogers Arena Sept. 11.


    You can link to the original article here Canucks hone skills with skating coach

    The team’s first preseason game is Sept. 16, while the regular season begins Oct. 3 in San Jose against the Sharks.


  • Hard work lifted Jason Garrison to NHL

    By Don Fennell – Richmond Review

    Published: August 09, 2013 12:00 AM

    Updated: August 09, 2013 2:55 PM




    Jason Garrison took the less travelled road to the National Hockey League, signing his first pro contract with the Florida Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2008.


    And it’s perhaps in part because he was a so-called late bloomer that the now 28-year-old Vancouver Canucks’defenceman refuses to take his position for granted.


    “I personally want to take my game to another level,” says the affable Garrison, who during midseason in the 2002-03 season was converted to defence from forward by his former Richmond Sockeyes’ coach Ron Johnson.


    “Ultimately, every summer, I want to come into the next year feeling better than the last.”


    Take skating, for example.


    Though Garrison has always been a good skater, for the last several summers he’s honed that skill working out with fellow pros under the tutelage of renowned skating coach Derek Popke at the Vancouver Hockey School.





















    “There are always so many guys that want your spot,” Garrison reasons. “You have to not only maintain your skills but grow them. For me that happens in the summer, skating with these guys—a lot of whom are young and have a lot of energy and are trying to get to that next level. You can always be better no matter who you are.”


    Clearly, Garrison appreciates and values the input he gets from Popke who he says “has a good mindset and knows his drills.” During a workout with a group of fellow pros earlier this week in Richmond, Garrison frequently stops to ask what he can do better.


    “Ninety-nine per cent of players wait for feedback from you, whereas Jay will go through a drill and then explain what it felt like for him,” says Popke, who for three years worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects (brought in by Leafs’ general manager Dave Nonis whose son formerly attended the Vancouver Hockey School) and also provided skating instruction to a trio of Stanley Cup winners—Willie Mitchell, Milan Lucic and Brent Seabrook.


    “(Garrison exchanging ideas) is what separates him from the pack,” continues Popke. “When he goes through a drill he tells you what he thinks he’s doing wrong. By the two of us working together, that’s where you get the ultimate development and progression. He’s as much invested as a player as I am as a coach.”


    Garrison is the epitome of a player who has made it through hard work and passion.


    “He was not a kid when coming up (in minor hockey) who played on every rep team,” notes Popke. “He was actually a house player growing up, so if ever there was a kid who maybe would want to quit because he didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel it was him. But through hard work he slowly made his way up to junior, where once again the same thing happened. He was not a Junior A player until 19 (joining the Nanaimo Clippers in 2003-04 after a season playing Junior B for the Sockeyes).


    “A lot of kids, if they don’t make the Bantam A team, or at 16 and 17 if they haven’t made Junior A, give up,” says Popke. “This was a guy who didn’t make any of those teams but by working on details was able to achieve the ultimate goal. I think as a result that work ethic is engrained in him.”


    After two seasons with the Clippers (for whom he scored 22 goals and 62 points in the 2004-05 season), Garrison was afforded the opportunity to further his education and hockey career by accepting an athletic scholarship to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He decided to forego his final season of NCAA eligibility to turn pro in 2008-09, spending all but one game with the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate Rochester Americans for whom he scored eight goals and 35 points.


    Garrison toiled in relative obscurity during his first three seasons with the Panthers, but broke out offensively in 2011-12 setting a franchise record for single-season goals by a defenceman with 16. The timing proved to be ideal, as Garrison became a sought-after free agent who signed a six-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, 2012.


    The chance to play for his hometown team was a dream come true, and Garrison feels fortunate the opportunity presented itself.


    “It’s one of those things you don’t really think about too much until somebody asks you,” he explains. “Then you think, ‘yeah, that would be awesome.’ Obviously it was an exciting summer but it was different and I totally knew that coming in. Still, you never really fully appreciate or understand it until you’re there and so it was a learning experience.”


    Under the constant scrutiny the Canuck must endure, Garrison scored eight goals and 16 points in 47 games as a Canuck last season. He had his ups and downs, but feels he learned a lot and is looking forward to the 2013-14 season under new head coach John Tortorella.


    “The main goal is to win, and sometimes a change is good,” he says. “I think it will be positive. (Tortorella) brings a lot of energy, a lot of experience and a different set of dynamics. We’re excited.”


    Though ice hockey was his main sport growing up in White Rock, Garrison also participated in such activities as rugby, basketball and roller hockey.


    “I think it’s good as a kid to play different sports,” he says. “For me it was about having fun and being with my friends while also obviously learning. My parents were always very good and offered positive encouragement. I think every parent wants their kids to do better, but I think it’s important to allow them to be (themselves). I played because I was having fun. I was never mentally exhausted.”


    Popke says every young player and their parents can learn from Garrison’s journey.


    “There’s so much pressure to play at the highest level growing up, but it doesn’t have anything to do with making the NHL,” he says. “Hard work is part of a skillset. You can teach kids to skate, stickhandle and score, but it’s also important—and a challenge—to teach them how to work hard.”


    Garrison clearly loves being a member of the Canucks and even before his debut last season was already embracing the opportunity to represent the team at numerous community events. And he never passes up an autograph request. It’s these qualities that make him a consummate pro and why he’s quickly become a ‘hometown’ favourite.


  • Guest coach Jason Garrison inspires young hockey players


        by  Don Fennell - Richmond Review

        posted May 8, 2014 at 1:00 PM— updated May 8, 2014 at 4:24 PM


    Jason Garrison and Kevin Bieksa exchanged some friendly Twitter banter recently after finding themselves behind the benches of a pair of spring hockey teams.


    Defence partners on the Vancouver Canucks, and for the next couple weeks teammates on Canada’s entry at the World Hockey Championships, the NHLers happened to be coaching on adjacent rinks: Garrison the BC Kodiaks and Bieksa his son’s team.


    A Richmond Sockeye during their Keystone Cup run in 2002-03, Garrison was encouraged to be a guest coach by his friend and skating instructor Derek Popke who is director of the BC Kodiaks, an all-Seafair Minor Hockey program established two years ago.


    “Jason has worked with me privately on his skating for the past five years,” said Popke, who in addition to being director of player development for Seafair operates the Vancouver Hockey School and is a renowned hockey skating consultant who has also worked on-ice with the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and with Stanley Cup winners Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Willie Mitchell and Milan Lucic.


















    “We were talking about his training schedule for this summer and basically just catching up on the phone after the Canucks season ended. I mentioned the Kodiaks program to him and that they were in a tournament this weekend.  Half jokingly I said we should go surprise one of the teams by guest-coaching one of their games. Jason said that sounded like fun.”


    Having an NHL player as their coach may have given the 2007 Kodiaks a little extra spring in their steps, but Garrison was equally amazed by the youngsters’ talent. After the game, Garrison took photos with each of the Kodiaks and gave them all a signed hockey card.


    Many associations are now starting to follow the Kodiaks-Seafair partnership as a way to increase their player development.


    “The goal is not to prevent players from playing with outside programs, but simply to provide an option that is affordable, competitive and local. Seafair has a great development model in place and the Kodiaks provides an avenue for this development to continue,” said Popke. “And being able to secure ice at their home arena is unparalleled and extremely convenient for parents, coaches and players. “


    The Kodiaks has teams, both at the AA and AAA levels, for players ranging in age from six to 13 years old. Each participant is schooled in individual skills, team tactics, game play and sportsmanship.


    “The players are very excited to be able to continue playing hockey for another 10 weeks with their close friends,” said Seafair vice-president and community relations director Cody Kusch.


    “What normally happens in the spring is that players join all different teams and not all the interested players are at the same ability. As well, many of the true AAA or elite teams focus too much on winning and not enough on the enjoyment of the game.  Over the last five years I have really seen a shift in the number of AA teams being formed versus the number of AAA programs that have either folded or changed their name to begin recruiting again. The attraction to the AA association teams is that the cost is usually quite a bit cheaper, the players are able to play with more of their close friends, the travel is far less, the commitment is not as intense, and the players are able to continue playing other sports in the spring because their weekly schedules have room for other activities.”


    Kusch said when his daughter (2004 age group) was enrolled in the Hockey 2 program four years ago, there was no other association-based spring teams entered in any local tournaments. When his son (2006 age group) was in the program last year there were over 20.


    The success to date, both on the ice and off the ice, has been “very positive,” said Kusch, who stressed hockey should be more than just about winning and losing.


    “It should be about utilizing the learned skills to create a better all-around person,” he said.


    “We teach the players about respect and they learn at a very young age how to dress themselves, fill up their own water bottles, clean up their own dressing rooms and engage in various team building exercises. They are being taught, through various off-ice activities, how to build self confidence and self esteem,” continued Kusch. “This program fosters this learning throughout the spring.”



  • Santorelli keeps working to improve NHL standing


    August 7, 2014 · 3:29 PM



    Under the watchful eye of professional development instructor Derek Popke (right), Toronto Maple Leaf Mike Santorelli works on a drill Wednesday at the Richmond Ice Centre. / DON FENNELL PHOTO

    Mike Santorelli appears antsy.


    During a drill with a small group of fellow pros Wednesday at the Richmond Ice Centre, it seems clear he’s over the injury that cut short last season’s promising campaign with his hometown Vancouver Canucks. But having recently signed a one-year contract to resume his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 28-year-old centre has to prove himself again.


    “The game is so competitive you’ve always got to prove yourself. And you’ve always got to get better because there’s always someone who want to take your job,” he said following an intense hour-long workout under the guidance of renowned Vancouver Hockey School instructor Derek Popke.


    Fortunately Santorelli is used to hard work.


    Though a prolific scorer at the junior and college level, he was a late pick (sixth round, 178th overall) of the Nashville Predators in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. But armed with a relentless determination and a strong skill set, the swift-skating Santorelli proved quickly to be a proficient scorer at the minor pro level too. His point-a-game pace with Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate Milwaukee Admirals in 2008-09 (just his second season as a pro) earned him seven games with the Preds that season.


    The following year he played 25 games in Nashville, but spent most of the 2009-10 season in Milwaukee where he again averaged about a point per game during the season and playoffs.


    That consistency and promise earned Santorelli a free agent contract with the Florida Panthers in 2010-11, where in 82 games he scored 20 goals and 41 points. Last year with the Canucks, he was again on pace for a 20-goal campaign before a season-ending shoulder injury capped the numbers at 10 goals and 28 points in 49 games.


    “It’s like a job actually,” said Santorelli. “Some people think you just have the off-seasons to just enjoy, but we’re all coming out here looking to become stronger and faster. I usually start my off-season training in early July, but this year I started a bit earlier just because I got hurt and wanted to get back in shape. The game is about read and react and you’ve got to be sharp because everything is decided in seconds. It’s also a fast, high-tempo game now and you’ve got to be able to skate or you’re going to be in trouble.”


    This is the first year Santorelli has worked with Popke and appreciates the intense focus of the drills.


    “A lot of guys spoke highly of him, and after a couple sessions I definitely notice a difference. I’ve learned quite a bit,” he says. “These drills are good for both hand-eye co-ordination.




    Popke, who for the fourth year in a row skated the Leafs’ prospects and free agents this summer, said Santorelli reflects a rapidly-emerging trend among NHL players who are seeking out intense off-season workouts with professional instructors. Most prefer the detailed instruction to be one-on-one or in small groups of no more than three or four players.


    Ironically, the focus on skill development among the pros is the result of the development model being introduced at the youth level.


    “Over the last number of years the development model in minor hockey has changed, to where more youth kids are exposed to detailed instruction from professional coaches,” said Popke. “What’s happening is that as these kids come through the ranks into junior and then get drafted into pro hockey, the NHL guys feel the pressure from the bottom and are looking for ways to stay ahead of the curve. The way they train is a lot different now. They’re getting more into skill development and individual needs (to address) where they feel there is a weakness in their game.”


    Popke said few fans realize the many variables that NHL players face to retain their positions, including the physical wear and tear.


    “Sometimes the window of opportunity is really small,” he said. “In (Santorelli’s) case, he’s going to a new team and they’re going to see where he slots in. He might start on the first line but he’s got to produce within the first five to seven games, whatever the coach decides. It’s tough to do that, especially when you’re still getting to know your line mates, but being a skilled forward your job is to produce. When you look at the top NHL players they make it look easy, and when you get on the ice with these guys you realize their talent level is through the roof. The other 85 per cent are just trying to keep up, so whatever you can do during the summer to gain even an inch, perhaps learning a different edge control coming out of a turn, helps your game and keeps your job. One thing can help them prolong a season or add two or three years to their careers.”

  • Bieksa tunes up skating

    by  Don Fennell - Richmond Review


    Kevin Bieksa appeared in mid-season form earlier this week. At least the quick wit.


    Asked by a newspaper scribe if the off-season drills with renowned local skating instructor Derek Popke were helping his game, he deadpanned “no, not at all.” That was followed by a quick grin and a comprehensive response. “Of course,” he said. “I’m coming off a couple of hip injuries too so I’ve kind of had to learn how to reinvent my stride so to speak. And with the help of Popper here, done some good things. I felt good last year and I’m feeling strong and ready to go this year.”


    Set to begin his 10th NHL season—all with the Vancouver Canucks—Bieksa joined Popke and former Canuck Jason Garrison, traded this summer to the Tampa Bay Lightning, for an intense defencemen-focused workout in Richmond. He began training with Popke two summers ago after being introduced to one of his sessions through Garrison.

    “It’s a little bit different than just going out and skating with a bunch of guys, doing some hockey drills and scrimmaging,” Bieksa said.

    “You’re coming out here working on position-specific and player-specific  things. You’re working on pivots for defencemen, building speed, and crossing over. I really enjoy it. I think working with two players is probably the max, because (Popke) is able to watch both of us doing the same drills, critique us and give us some constructive criticism and some help. I think he has a pretty good understanding of myself by now, from the times I’ve skated with him, and knows my strengths and weaknesses, and he’s not afraid to tell me.”


    At 33, Bieksa has firmly established himself as a core blueliner in the NHL, and a player who can also still contribute offensively. But it his strong character that may be even more valued. Making his NHL debut versus the Los Angeles Kings in December 2005, the six-foot-one, 200-pound graduate of Bowling Green State University (where he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance during his four years playing for the Falcons) soon became a go-to player and a fan and media favourite. After just his first complete NHL season, Bieksa earned the coveted Babe Pratt Trophy as the Canucks’ top defenceman and has since become a team leader and alternate captain.


    In the wake of the passing of his close friend and former Canuck teammate Rick Rypien in 2011, Bieksa has also become a spokesman for mental health.

    “I’m trying to carry on my friend’s intent to make a difference for those with mental health issues,” he said. “(Mind Check has gotten amazing support and the Canucks have really rallied around (mental health) too with the Hockey Talks initiative. Before Rick, I had very little experience with (mental health issues). You kind of have to learn about it, especially if you’ve never suffered from it it’s hard to really understand. You talk to friends and people who’ve been through it and it’s a tough disease, and these people battling every day. You see what happened with Robin Williams a few weeks ago. We’re doing the best we can to raise awareness because a lot of kids suffer in silence and are not able to get the help they need. The whole point of Mind Check is to help guide these people to the right channels to get help.”


    Growing up in the small town of Grimsby, Ont., located in the Niagara region, Bieksa played many sports and enjoyed them all. He says enjoying the game really is key.

    “The reason most guys I’ve seen that make it to the NHL is because they really enjoy the gam,” he said. “My dad never had to force me to go to one practice when I was a kid. I always enjoyed being on the ice. There’s a lot of time to put pressure on yourself, but when you’re a kid coming up have fun and be a sponge and learn from all the people you can all the coaches and skating instructors. There’s a lot of people that you can teach you something. “I have a son who has been playing organized hockey for three years and I just support him. I teach when I can but don’t force too much on him and make sure he enjoys the game.”


    Bieksa believes there are many reasons to participate in multiple sports.“I get into different sports in the summer. I play a lot more tennis and golf and little bit of baseball,” he said. “ I coach my son in soccer and I’m on field with him a couple times a week. When I was a kid I played every sport. You develop different skills from every sport, whether it be hand-eye co-ordination, foot skills or explosive speed. And you need a break from hockey. My son didn’t play hockey all summer and he’s just rarin’ to go now. You step on the ice when you haven’t been on for a couple of months and all of a sudden you feel different. And you’ve learned new things.”


    Bieksa said the greatest difference between when he debuted in the NHL and now is that skating has become even more pronounced. “It’s a skating league for sure now, especially when they did away with all the obstruction and allowed people to really use their speed. You can’t really slow a guy nowadays,” he said. “Skating is by far the most important thing. There are smaller guys in league now that can skate and you didn’t see that 10 or 15 years ago. Who knows what the future holds and if they’re going to think about going to a bigger ice sheet, which would enhance skating even more. That’s why we’re out here now trying to get better, more efficient and stronger with our skating.”



Vancouver Hockey School was founded in 2001 with ONE focus: The development of complete hockey players of all ages and abilities through professional coaching and detailed instruction and training.


Vancouver Hockey School’s first ever programme was a one-week summer hockey school based in Langley B.C. Encouraged by the positive feedback of parents and players, Founder and President Derek Popke began to offer classes during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. These classes met with tremendous success and the vision to build the Vancouver Hockey School into an industry leader began. Today, Vancouver Hockey School operates year round programmes that attract thousands of students from around the province and western Canada.


Vancouver Hockey School’s main target market has always been and will continue to be the development of minor hockey players.  However, in 2005 as students started graduating into the junior and the professional hockey ranks, Vancouver Hockey School began to offer programming tailored to the more elite calibre of player.  The launch of the Junior and NHL Development Programme continues to attract some of the best players in the professional game. Students such as Brent Seabrook, Willie Mitchell, Milan Lucic, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Cogliano, and Jason Garrison continue to make the Vancouver Hockey School their home.


Vancouver Hockey School’s programmes are constantly expanding to meet the demand created by the school’s popularity.  Now, over a decade later, Vancouver Hockey School’s main focus continues to be the development of the complete player.


Jason Garrison, Kevin Beiska, Derek Popke. Dale Wiese, Chris Higgins

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