I remember first meeting Kevin Bell when I was 6 years old at the outdoor rink up at the Homer Middle School. It was after my older brother's peewee hockey practice. He introduced himself to me as "Kevin," but I had grown up knowing him as "Coach." He tried convincing my mom to let me play hockey, but there was one problem holding me back: I didn't have any equipment for the sport. It was a big problem for me, but for him, it was just another case of giving a kid some used equipment.
Stepping out on the ice with gear for the first time was a life-changing experience. Coach provided me with the opportunity and the tools to change my life, but he also gave me a chance to fall in love with the game of hockey.
Practice at the old rink was hard at times, as there wasn't a building built around it to protect the ice from the harsh weather conditions we have here on the Kenai Peninsula. But almost every day, there would still be practice for the kids — thanks to Kevin and the volunteers he would round up to shovel the snow and to resurface the ice for the next group of kids.
If Kevin wasn't out working (he also was the captain of the Tiglax), he would be found at the rink coaching the kids on the fundamentals of hockey. He would be at the rink for the first practice of the day, whether it would be Mites or Squirts, and he would stay at the rink until after the high school practice and lock up for the night.
Not only was Kevin dedicated, but he had this great ability to motivate kids to do their best on and off the ice. I was in the third grade when I got suspended from school. That day, Kevin walked into the locker room, pulled me off to the side, and said, "This is your first and last warning. I don't want any trouble makers on my team. If I hear from anyone you have been misbehaving in school, I will not let you play on my team."
I have to be honest, I was scared. I was scared of the fact that I wouldn't be able to play hockey. My love for the sport was strong and the idea of not playing made me cringe inside. After that talk, I didn't get into trouble again, although I might have gotten a few detentions for being tardy.
Overall, Kevin was a serious coach. He loved it when Homer won, but when it came to kids, he just enjoyed it when they played well and had fun. Before every game, Kevin would talk to the team about the game. He would remind us about the skills we practiced, and how we could use those skills we had been working on. But before every game, he also would ask us what the first rule of hockey was and it was to have fun.
Kevin did many things for the Homer hockey community. He is missed not just by the community, but especially by the players. His legacy still lives on with the arena and with the players that play on it.
It was in 2006 that I last heard Kevin ask me what the first rule of hockey was, but I still remember to have fun every day.
Anton Kuzmin is in the tenth grade and attends Homer Flex High School. Kevin Bell coached him for the first five seasons he played hockey. He continues to play and is on the high school team.