Interview with Cretin-Derham Hall Head Hockey Coach Matt Funk

by Peder Nestingen

Matt Funk is entering his fourth year as boys head coach at Cretin-Derham Hall (“CDH”) High School. Prior to CDH, Coach Funk was the boys head coach at Saint Paul Academy (“SPA”), and an assistant coach at SPA and Saint Thomas Academy. Coach Funk, and his wife Jovanna, have two daughters who play in the Saint Paul-Roseville Co-op, and Coach Funk has been an assistant coach for many of his daughters’ SPR and Capitals’ teams.

In the summer, Coach Funk offers a youth hockey summer camp for boys and girls of all ages.  This summer, he’s doing so in collaboration with Highland High School’s head coach Brandon Ferraro.  I recently had a chance to ask Coach Funk a few questions about his upcoming summer camp.  

How many years have you offered your camp? You started your camp while you were the head coach at Saint Paul Academy, and continued it when you were the head coach at Cretin Derham-Hall.

This will be our 8th year offering the camp. We started the camp when I was head coach at Saint Paul Academy. I modeled the camp after Mike Foley’s Summer Hockey Camp and Minnesota Hockey Camps. These are two camps that I either attended or worked when I was growing up. Mike Foley was the head hockey coach at Saint Paul Academy and one of my biggest mentors coming out of college, and his camp at Drake arena was affordable, local, and for the community.

I presume you didn’t offer your camp last year due to COVID?  

 We didn’t want to offer the camp last year due to COVID. It would have been hard to manage and there were too many unknowns at the time of registration. CDH also cancelled most of their youth camps.

This summer you’re collaborating with Highland Scott’s Head Coach Brandon Ferraro. How did that come about?

I knew Brandon as someone that was a great coach with a ton of passion and I met him during Capitals evaluations last fall. My uncle, Jim Funk, is also Brandon’s assistant coach. Our programs share the same rink, and our kids generally come from the same area, so by doing something together, we can make the camp about the entire community. When I offered the camp at SPA and then my CDH camp, some people felt like the camp was only for those communities. Brandon and I want to include all communities because our camp is about growing the game of hockey in Saint Paul and surrounding communities. Our programs will grow together and it is important that we continue to work together and keep the game fun for our youth.

What will be new or different this year? 

What’s new this year is that we’ll be offering an off-ice component in addition to the on-ice component. We’ll be using the south rink at Highland Arena to offer some physical fitness but also a chance to play ball hockey and other fun games so that the kids stay active and involved for two hours each day. Brandon is a phys. ed. teacher at Highland and he has a passion for creating a fun, interactive environment that promotes the kids health and wellness while competing.

 What do you think is most important in developing a young hockey player?

 Developing basic skills, especially skating, and edgework, is so important for today’s game. If you watch playoff hockey, you notice the players’ skating is so good now. Kids too often get thrown into hockey without developing basic skating skills. We need to develop good skaters first. So basic skating skills, like edgework, stride development, and power, are what we’ll be emphasizing for all age groups at our camp.  

We believe in the [American Development Model], so at the camp we’ll also do a lot of small area games and keep the kids moving the entire time. There will be no standing around! It’s also important to emphasize fun, so kids develop a love for the game. So we’ll keep everything fun.

Based on the players that you see at CDH is there anything that you believe gets overlooked or left out in developing youth hockey players?

I think it’s important for kids to be athletes first and hockey players second. I’m wary of kids who follow what I call the “AAA hockey” model; kids who never put their skates away in the summer, and don’t play other sports. I think it’s important for kids to play other sports, such as baseball, softball, lacrosse, and tennis, because other sports develop a kid's overall athleticism. There will be a time in your life when you need to specialize, but when they are young they should be trying everything and staying active. That’s part of the reason we’re having kids play other games in the south rink at Highland as part of our camp. It is also the reason we are doing one week at the end of the summer after baseball, softball, and the other summer sports are done.

You’ve been around Saint Paul hockey nearly all your life. What’s changed?

There used to be many high schools in Saint Paul that had hockey programs, and there used to be great Saint Paul rivalries. We are missing a lot of the Saint Paul rivalries anymore! It is fun to have kids play for me and their grandfathers ask “are you related to the Highland Funks? Is your dad Pat? I went to Johnson and played against him. Or your Grandpa coached me at Monroe.” I am also now starting to coach kids of guys that I played against in high-school. Same with Brandon.

It is sad to think there are only 4 high school teams left in St. Paul (CDH, St Paul Highland/Central, St Paul Johnson, and SPA). No other high schools in Saint Paul, besides CDH, have a AA level hockey program, so we don’t play other teams from Saint Paul. We only play suburban schools because those schools have AA programs. Saint Thomas Academy is the only other high school in our area that has a AA hockey program. The Saint Paul rivalries are something I hope we can bring back.

Where can people register for your camp?  Are there any spots remaining?

Players can register here but the camp is filling quickly because summer is upon us and parents are looking for camps for their kids to do.