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