Luke Pierce’s year has been a whirlwind, but he wouldn’t have it any other
In June, Pierce was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Kootenay
Ice of the Western Hockey League. Already signed up to serve as an
assistant coach with Canada Red at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey
Challenge, he added more Hockey Canada responsibilities when he joined
Canada’s National Sledge Team an assistant.
“The coaching journey is never linear. You never really know where it is
going to take you,” Pierce says. “When Shawn [Bullock, senior manager of
hockey operations and men’s national teams with Hockey Canada] first threw
the idea by me, it was out of left field, but I took some time to talk to
some people that have done it.
“Right from day one, it seemed like something I really wanted to do. I
think as trying as my time was in Kootenay, this was a great reset button.”
The Merritt, B.C., product has spent eight seasons behind the bench,
joining the coaching ranks as soon as he finished his university career
with the Royal Military College in 2009.
Pierce was general manager and head coach of his hometown Merritt
Centennials of the B.C. Hockey League for six years and head coach of the
Ice for two before being replaced after the team was sold this summer.
“I think the greatest part about coaching is constantly learning,” he says.
“The moment you stop making mistakes and stop learning is when you are
done. I loved my time in Merritt, but it was certainly time to move on. I
was fortunate to be given the opportunity in Kootenay.”
Now it’s on to para hockey, and a new challenge – helping get Team Canada
ready for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
“This was a cool opportunity and I am excited,” Pierce says. “My timing
couldn’t have been better … these guys have been slugging away at this for
four years and I got to slide right in at the time when we are headed for
Pierce will serve as assistant under head coach Ken Babey, who has been
with Team Canada since 2015. The 2017 World Sledge Hockey Challenge will be
the first time the two have been behind the bench together, but Babey
believes Pierce will be a great fit.
“Luke is a former player and a good communicator, passionate about the game
and team orientated – those are all things that we are looking for in a
coach that works on our staff and our team,” says Babey. “He is also within
the age group of some of our players, so I think he can help with bridging
the gap in communication and working with the players on an individual
The learning curve has been steep for Pierce; he has had to absorb a lot in
a short period of time to get ready for Charlottetown. Para hockey is
especially different from the stand-up game from a tactical perspective,
not to mention understanding the personalities of the players, and the
culture of the team.
“My biggest concern was if it was a different game, but I have been
surprised with how little it does vary. Obviously, there are some things
that are different about it, but the game stays the game,” said Pierce.
“I was shocked at how incredible these athletes are and the pace of the
game that they play at and their skill level. It has been good for me to
try and find new ways to help them because they are already masters at
their sport. I am trying to bring little things that we can add to create
wrinkles for other teams.”
Pierce also won’t hesitate to lean on his previous international
experience; he was an assistant with Canada West at the 2014 World Junior A
Challenge in addition to his U17 position this season.
In northern B.C. last month, Pierce helped Red to a silver-medal finish.
“The U17s was a great experience. Short-term tournaments are all about
peaking at the right time, staying patient and building towards that final
goal,” he says. “For me and this role, I can focus on those little things
that might go unnoticed. Ken has a great handle on the rest of the stuff
and I will do whatever I can to support so we peak at the right moment.”
And when this para hockey ride is over?
Pierce isn’t sure where he will end up next, but he isn’t too worried. The
hockey world is a small one, and when this chapter ends, he’s excited for a
new one to begin.
“Right now, this has been a great dose of reality. What these guys have
done and what they have overcome is inspiring,” he says. “I am going to
enjoy the hell out of this. If something comes along next, which I am sure
it will, I will be a bit more grounded.”