Local hockey coach enjoying the ride

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

by EVAN MATTHEWS 

It’s not unusual for many young Canadians to dream of playing in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals, however, it’s not very often one dreams of coaching.

For 28-year-old Dunster native, Mark McNaughton, this old adage holds true, though he was named as Head Coach of the Junior B Princeton Posse last week, while he also holds the title of General Manager.

“I played in McBride all the way through, gosh, end of pee-wee?” says McNaughton. “Bantam and midget I had to go to Valemount.”

McNaughton experienced many of the same challenges young rural hockey players face today, saying short line-ups and long drives were really the extent of it, but it was a part of being dedicated to the sport he loves so much.

As he progressed later into his career, and as McNaughton began to fight for ice-time, he began to seriously consider coaching.

“In my last two years of university hockey, I found myself relegated to the bench more than the ice,” says McNaughton.

“I always knew I wanted to coach after I was done playing, but at that point the ice time was already limited, and trying to make a crack at a pro line-up wasn’t going to be any easier,” he says.

After finishing his last couple of years at university, McNaughton says he began to move on with his life when a coaching opportunity in Comox fell into his lap.

A good friend of McNaughton’s, he says, took on coaching the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.

“We had always talked about coaching together, and the opportunity presented itself, so we thought, ‘why not?’” he says.

And McNaughton’s career as a coach has progressed from there, with many similar and comparable qualities and philosophies as some of the world’s best.

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Head Coach, Mike Babcock, is one of the most decorated professional coaches in the world, having won the World Cup of Hockey, the Stanley Cup, the World Championship, the World Junior Championship and Olympic gold medal (on two occasions, 2010 and 2014) for Canada.

It’s widely known and accepted that Babcock’s best attribute as a coach, actually has nothing to do with coaching per se, but rather managing people, a quality McNaughton finds to be valuable as well.

“The biggest thing is finding a way to get through to everyone… Wanting everyone to work the same way isn’t a realistic expectation,” says McNaughton.

“It’s about getting through to each player individually, so I’m always working on my communication skills, making sure we understand each other, and I do it with every single one of my players,” he says.

“It’s about getting through to each player individually, so I’m always working on my communication skills, making sure we understand each other, and I do it with every single one of my players,” he says.

Having spent years around the game, McNaughton says it’s that side of things — managing people and communicating — that he works so hard at, as some of coaching is innate and some of it is hard work.

“Running people seems to be in my nature a little bit,” says McNaughton, pointing to his experience as General Manager. “I try to get performance out of people.”

With the game changing constantly, McNaughton says it’s only getting faster and kids are getting better at younger ages.

His advice for young would-be coaches: Do it, just try.

“Give it a try and see if you’re any good at it,” he says, adding there is a second bit to his advice.

“It’s so important to understand your method with one kid might not be your method with the next, and not getting frustrating with it.

“Treat everybody like honest individuals, and you’ll find a way to get through to them,” he says.

If an NHL opportunity were to ever present itself, he would consider it (for good reason), but McNaughton says he’s not thinking about it, as he’s happy doing what he’s doing now.

“It’s the right fit,” he says. “I’m just taking it hour-by-hour, for the time being.”