npt coaching feature
Learning on the job
A quintet of coaches are sharing their experiences and lending their expertise as Canada’s National Para Hockey Team opens a new season at selection camp
Jason La Rose
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September 6, 2018
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It’s a full house in the coaches’ room at Canada’s National Para Hockey Team selection camp.

With the dawn of a new season, and a new Paralympic cycle, head coach Ken Babey has brought together five coaches from a variety of backgrounds to be part of what is shaping up to be the start of a new era for the Team Canada program.

They may not have a lot of hands-on para experience, but that may not be a bad thing.

“Like I told them when they first came in, the guys that had never been exposed to [para hockey] before, it’s hockey, so all that stuff around it is the same, but it is different,” Babey says. “The skills are different in the sense of intricacies, and the style of play is different, especially the style we’re trying to play. So it’s good for them because they get to explore some new ideas, and it’s good for us because we get to try those ideas.

“All these gentleman are real good coaches; they all bring experiences at high levels, and it only adds to our program when you bring in high-quality people like this. We’ll be stronger because of it.”

Without further ado, let’s meet the coaches.

There’s Mike Foligno, a 757-point scorer in the NHL and long-time AHL and OHL bench boss, who joined the para program last season and led Canada’s National Para Hockey Development Team at the Défi sportif AlterGo in April.

Mike Fountain is a World Juniors alumnus and Spengler Cup champion who played 17 years of professional hockey in five countries, including NHL stints in Vancouver, Carolina and Ottawa, and is still getting his feet wet as a coach.

Maxime Gagnon is the most para-savvy of the group, leading Quebec’s provincial team, helping organize the first national championship in 2016 and lending his expertise at national team camps in recent years.

Dan Lacroix is a well-travelled assistant coach with NHL stints in Montreal, New York and Tampa Bay, an AHL stop in Hamilton and a spell behind the bench in the QMJHL in Moncton, along with 188 big-league games during a 13-year pro career.

And last, but certainly not least, Scott Walker is fresh off Olympic bronze as an assistant in PyeongChang, and owns a coaching résumé that includes an OHL championship and gold medals at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup and World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

Five hockey minds, five sets of experiences, but one singular goal.

“These are the best players in Canada, and we’re trying to build the best team in the world,” Foligno says. “It takes a lot of work, but Ken and [team manager] Marshall Starkman and so many other people have done a real good job in bringing that along. With our experiences, there are a lot of transferable mentalities that we bring from our NHL and AHL and junior backgrounds, and we hope we can contribute in that regard.”

This season is a crucial one for the para program, with a handful of seasoned veterans taking time away from the game after the four-year grind towards PyeongChang that ended in a silver medal last February.

That means more roster spots than usual are up for grabs, and the players who Foligno saw up close and personal at the NextGen Prospects Camp and Défi sportif AlterGo in the spring are at the front of the line to challenge for those spots.

“This being the first year of the four-year [Paralympic cycle] we’re looking at, it’s a new start,” Foligno says. “I have an understanding of the players who are returning, and I had a chance to see the up-and-coming players, and the future looks bright. This is a good group of high-energy guys coming in, looking to learn, and we’ve got to do a good job identifying. We have to work together and learn as we go along.”

It’s not all work and no play, though. While the focus is on Team Canada and building a roster for the 2018-19 season, the coaches are taking every opportunity they can to learn from each other just as much as they teach the players.

“For me it’s just like being at a coaching workshop or seminar again,” Babey says. “You kick around ideas, [the other coaches] ask ‘Why do you do this? Would you try this?’ and the give-and-take is just so awesome. I’m going to benefit from it, but more importantly the team is really going to benefit from it, so it’s win-win.”

As the season moves on towards the Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup in London, Ont., in early December, and the IPC World Para Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic next spring, there will be a revolving door of sorts behind the Team Canada bench.

Babey, of course, will be the constant as he enters his fifth season as head coach, but the hope is to have the others earning their para hockey stripes as often as they can.

“We will see what their schedules are like, and have them involved as much as we can,” Babey says. “Just as you build a good team of players with depth, you want to build a good team of coaches with depth. The more good coaches we can expose [to the program], the better. They’re anxious to be involved, and we’re anxious to keep them involved.”

For more information:

Vacant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Coordinator, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4567 / 905-906-5327 (mobile)
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

Katie Macleod
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427 / 403-612-2893 (mobile)
kmacleod@hockeycanada.ca

 

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