© Photo Special to The Guardian By Keith Hershmiller
Billy McGuigan is enjoying his first year as an assistant coach with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
Billy McGuigan part of Regina Pats club that won WHL’s East division after starting season 1-5
Billy McGuigan is enjoying his first season behind the bench in the Western Hockey League.
After guiding the Summerside Western Capitals to the Canadian junior A final in 2012-13, the Charlottetown native decided during the off-season to join the Regina Pats.
“We started off the season 1-5 and many of the pundits predicted us to finish 22nd in the league and last in our division and conference,” McGuigan told The Guardian. “We found a way this year to end up winning our division.”
Regina (39-26-4-3) won the Eastern Conference’s East Division title and McGuigan credited head coach Malcolm Cameron with turning the team around.
“He built the game plan and a structure that the guys bought into,” McGuigan said. “They became a committed team . . . and more of a team and (were) willing to pay the price.”
General manager Chad Lang also added Calgary Hitmen defenceman Jesse Zgraggen as well as left-winger Boston Leier and goalie Daniel Wapple from Medicine Hat.
The Pats, still considered by some as underdogs, play the Brandon Wheat Kings (34-29-6-3) in the first round starting Saturday and Sunday at home.
“I think it’s going to be a real tough series,” said McGuigan, noting the season series was fairly even between the two clubs.
“Brandon has been kind of a thorn in our side this year. They’re a real physical team that plays real hard.”
The Pats had missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons and this season was only the fourth time since 1983-84 Regina won the division title.
McGuigan started his head coaching days with the Charlottetown Abbies major midget team in 2001-02. That year they lost the Atlantic final in Kensington to a team from Dartmouth, N.S., with Sidney Crosby leading the way.
“I went down to the dressing room and got his autograph on a program from the tournament that I still have,” McGuigan said.
The coach said he was fortunate people like Rory Beck, Jeff Squires and the Murphys gave him a chance to coach in the capital city, which included time with the junior A Abbies.
He went to Miramichi for a few years before landing in Summerside following Gordie Dwyer leaving the Capitals for the P.E.I. Rocket.
When Cameron took over the Pats, he called his former teammate McGuigan to see if he was interested in joining him.
“From junior A to major junior was a big transition and winning games makes it a lot easier,” McGuigan said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount here being in the WHL.”
One thing that is different out west is the travel. The Pats host the British Columbia teams and travel to the United States one year with it flipping the following season. McGuigan said they were gone for three weeks this year on the trip to the States.
McGuigan said he is enjoying his time in western Canada but does miss the Island.
“P.E.I. is home and that’s where you’d like to be but when opportunity comes you have to take them,” he said. “This is one I thought I had to take.”
u Who – An assistant coach with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
u Hometown – Charlottetown.
u Age – 38.
u Specific responsibility with the Pats – Defence.
u Playing career – Played with Peterborough and Kitchener in the OHL, before a four-year minor pro career that took him to Detroit and Saginaw in the CoHL, Fort Worth in the CHL as well as Alaska and Idaho in the WCHL.
u Coaching career – Charlottetown major midget, Charlottetown, Miramichi and Summerside in the Maritime Junior Hockey League and as an assistant coach with Canada’s sledge hockey team that won gold at the world challenge in 2011. He was named the Maritime Junior Hockey League’s coach of the year last season after guiding the Summerside Western Capitals to the league title and second in the country.