When people think of Kennesaw, ice hockey doesn't typically come to mind. But it happens to be home to Yan Kaminsky, a former pro hockey star and one of the best youth hockey coaches in the country.
A former player in the National Hockey League and a world champion with the Russian national team, Kaminsky has coached multiple players to the junior level, a stepping stone to college and professional hockey.
Now he works for the IceForum in Kennesaw and Duluth, offering private lessons, setting up leagues and coaching travel teams.
Wearing No. 17 after his hero, Valeri Kharlamov, Kaminsky played for Soviet junior national teams starting at age 13. He played in the World Junior Championships in 1990 and 1991, winning the silver medal both times.
During the 1989-90 hockey season, he saw his first action as a professional. He played for Dynamo Moscow for four seasons, during which time he won three league championships and the first Russian Cup.
In 1993, Kaminsky represented Russia in the World Ice Hockey Championships. Playing in all eight games, he tallied two goals and two assists in what would be Russia's first post-Soviet world championship.
"It was very chaotic," Kaminsky says. "You develop this patriotism, and you play for your country. Now you have no flag, no national anthem. It was a very interesting experience."
The World Championships would give Kaminsky exposure to NHL scouts.
"I was on top of the world. I wasn't really thinking about the NHL," he says.
"We didn't have much information at that time about North American hockey, specifically about the NHL. It appealed to me that it's one of the better hockey (leagues) in the world, and I wanted to see what I can do."
He traveled to North America to play for the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes) and later the New York Islanders. He finished his playing career in 1999 with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the International Hockey League.
Kaminsky scored 127 goals and garnered 126 assists in 467 games in his professional and international career and was inducted into the Russian Hockey Hall of Fame. Five years ago, his number was retired at the Russian arena where he started his professional career.
"It was very nice getting recognition from my hometown folks," he says.
Since 1999, Kaminsky has worked as the hockey director at the IceForum. His duties include organizing programs from recreational leagues to competitive travel teams, running clinics for children of all skill levels, conducting private lessons with players, and on-ice coach development.
If hockey is being played and coached at the IceForum, chances are Kaminsky's involved.
He is also reputed to be a devoted skating coach.
"You have to start from the basics," he says. "The No. 1 skill for a hockey player is you have to know how to skate. If you can't skate fast, make sharp turns or use your edges, you can't compete."
He adds: "When I teach skating, I'm working with kids anywhere from 6 years old to 17 years old. They have no stick, just skates, gloves and helmet. I try to make them better at edge control. The children have to balance on one leg. As soon as they start getting comfortable on their skates, then they can concentrate on the stick-handling skills and team aspects of the game."
Kaminsky appears to be passing down his ice hockey legacy. He and his wife, Anjelika, have three children. Claudia is 10. Sebastian is 4 and just learning how to skate. Jan, 18, is already an accomplished hockey player.
Kaminsky started coaching Jan at age 11, and through his strict tutelage, Jan is a rising hockey star. According to Kaminsky, Jan is the first Atlanta-area hockey player to play in the Ontario Hockey League, arguably the best junior hockey league in North America.
"We are really proud of him," Kaminsky says. "He is having a tough time this year, but he will be all right."
As much as hockey factors into his everyday life, he advises kids to focus on school as well as sports.
"It doesn't matter what level of hockey you play, they always look at your grades. You have to be the best student you can be," Kaminsky says.
"When it comes to hockey, any good coach will tell you that you need hard work, dedication, discipline and a love of the game. Everything else is fixable. It's coachable.
"But it's all up to the kids to determine how much they want it."