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Adjusting on the fly: Summerside Western Capitals coach has changed his style over the years

Billy McGuigan intently follows a drill during a Summerside Western Capitals’ practice recently. The Caps will host the St. Stephen Aces in Game 3 of the best-of-seven MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) playoff series at Eastlink Arena on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Caps lead the series after wins of 3-1 on Saturday and 5-1 on Tuesday.
Billy McGuigan intently follows a drill during a Summerside Western Capitals’ practice recently. The Caps will host the St. Stephen Aces in Game 3 of the best-of-seven MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) playoff series at Eastlink Arena on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Caps lead the series after wins of 3-1 on Saturday and 5-1 on Tuesday. - Jason Simmonds
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

Coaching is an ever-evolving profession, and no one understands that any better than Billy McGuigan.

The Summerside resident, who grew up in Hunter River and Charlottetown, is in his seventh season with the Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals of the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League).

“This is totally a different generation than when I started,” admitted McGuigan, who began his first stint as Caps head coach in the fall of 2011 after previously coaching the Charlottetown Abbies and Miramichi Timberwolves. “It’s a lot different coaching now than five, six years ago. I’ve changed my style drastically over the years.

“I’ve taken on a different approach. I’ve learned a lot from mistakes, and being around players. I know now when to push kids, and when not to.”

McGuigan, the winningest coach in Caps’ history, also acknowledged one big change in his style is that he’s “mellowed out” in recent years.

“I’ve grown and moved forward, and today I think I’m a lot better coach than I was when I started in Summerside,” said McGuigan. “The best part for me is to come to the rink every day with 20 guys who have the same goals.

“My biggest thing about coaching is you like to see improvement in your players, and like to see where they land when they are done here.”

Today, McGuigan said, players are looking for as much information coaches can provide.

“It’s more about building relationships now than ever before,” explained the 43-year-old son of Brenda and Len (Barney) McGuigan of Charlottetown. “Once you build relationships and earn their trust, then you can coach them.”


Billy McGuigan’s regular-season coaching records with Western Capitals:

  • 2011-12 – 26-21-5
  • *2012-13 – 43-7-2
  • 2014-15 – 18-17-5 after taking over as head coach on Oct. 23
  • *2015-16 – 34-12-1
  • 2016-17 – 25-22-3
  • 2017-18 – 33-16-1
  • *2018-19 – 40-8-2

*Denotes first-place overall in MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League).


Third season

Caps defenceman Brodie MacMillan of Stratford is in his third season playing for McGuigan.

“He’s a good guy to be around, and he makes going to the rink every day fun,” said MacMillan, 19. “He knows his time when to be stern, when to be with the guys joking around and that really benefits him.”

Asked what he feels McGuigan’s best attribute as a coach is, MacMillan answered: “I’d say it’s getting players to work for him. He really knows how to get the team going, and everyone to be working their hardest at all times.”

McGuigan appears to have found that formula. The Caps have gone 132-58-7 (won-lost-overtime losses) in the regular season the last four years, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs the last three. This year, the Caps posted a league-best 40-8-2 record to earn the No. 1 seed in the post-season.

“It was a pretty meaningful year for us,” said McGuigan, the brother of well-known harness racing driver, Mike McGuigan. “The players have bought in.

“Obviously, (general manager) Pat McIver does a great job in finding players, and we work together in all areas of the hockey department. We have Justin Harrison, who has done an excellent job in our scouting department with Todd Richard and the other scouts. It’s just a great team here.

“(Assistant coach) Jason (Lefty) Gallant has been an excellent addition to our coaching staff, (assistant coach) Thomas Waugh has been here throughout it all with me and Eric Morency, I think, is one of the best goalie coaches in Atlantic Canada.

“It’s been an honour to be here working with these guys each day.”

“This is totally a different generation than when I started. It’s a lot different coaching now than five, six years ago. I’ve changed my style drastically over the years. I’ve taken on a different approach. I’ve learned a lot from mistakes, and being around players. I know now when to push kids, and when not to.”
-Western Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan

Home support

That team approach also extends to the home front. McGuigan said he would not be able to coach at this level if not for the tremendous support he receives from his wife, Tammy, and their three hockey-playing children – Emmalee, 11; Brooke, 10, and Clarke, 6.

“Having that support at home and having them sacrifice so I can do this means everything,” said McGuigan, who spent the 2013-14 season as an assistant coach with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, who went 39-26-7 to finish the regular season in first place of the East Division. “The opportunity to coach here in Summerside, live here in Summerside, have my kids raised here in Summerside, it’s a real special place.”

Although the Caps have enjoyed tremendous success – including setting  a franchise record of 43 regular-season wins in 2012-13, winning the 2013 MHL championship and advancing to the 2013 RBC Cup national final game in Summerside – it is their off-ice involvement that stands out for McGuigan.

“My biggest attribute as a coach has been the involvement in the community,” said McGuigan. “We’ve gone above and beyond to integrate our team and players in the community, and that’s been special.

McGuigan’s resumé also includes three gold medals and one bronze as a member of Team Canada’s coaching staff at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge.

“When you have the opportunity to coach a national team with Hockey Canada, you get to go to seminars with the best coaches in the world, the world junior coaches, Olympic coaches.

“The best part is you get to sit around at the end of the evening, have a beverage and talk hockey. A lot of your knowledge comes from those moments.”

Summerside Western Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan explains a play to forward Sullivan Sparkes, left, and defenceman Jesse Annear during a game against the Amherst Ramblers in the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) in Summerside on Jan. 5. - Jason Simmonds
Summerside Western Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan explains a play to forward Sullivan Sparkes, left, and defenceman Jesse Annear during a game against the Amherst Ramblers in the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) in Summerside on Jan. 5. - Jason Simmonds

Mentors

While McGuigan was quick to point out he has had many individuals influence his coaching career, he is now paying that back.

“Billy has been a great mentor for me,” said Gallant, who is in his second season with the Caps and works with the penalty-killing units and defence. “What makes him a great coach is his attention to detail, and how he has taught me those details.

“Bill wants us to look after those areas, but he’s there if we have any questions. That’s what coaching is supposed to be about – it’s working together.

“We all have the same common goal, we are all trying to win hockey games, make the team stronger and make the kids not only better hockey players but people.”

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