Wheat Kings Training Camp Coverage is driven by
The date was December 17, 1997. A young, fresh faced Don MacGillivray was stepping behind the bench of the Prince Albert Raiders as a WHL Head Coach for the first time. MacGillivray, who started the season as an Assistant Coach, was promoted to the head gig when Chris Stewart was let go.
The excitement of living out a lifelong dream was quickly subdued as the Kelowna Rockets jumped out to a 2-0 lead just twelve minutes into the hockey game. However, the Raiders rallied and scored the next four goals on route to a 9-4 win.
While his record as a coach in Prince Albert didn’t win him any trophies, MacGillivray says he never forgot that night.
“I have the game puck on a plaque!” MacGillivray joked via text message from his room inside the University of Regina dormitory on Wednesday.
Since those years in Prince Albert, MacGillivray has put together an extensive resume that includes three MJHL Coach of the Year Awards, 669 regular season wins in the MJ and another 106 wins in the playoffs. To this day, MacGillivray sits second all-time on the MJHL wins list.
Sprinkle in three successful seasons with the University of Manitoba Bisons, and one CIS Canada West Coach of the Year award and it’s safe to say the Winnipeg native has earned the opportunity to return to the role he found himself in some 14 years ago.
“I think i’m a better coach today than I was a year ago, let alone when I started in this business,” said MacGillivray. “I’m excited to get this going, it’s been a long wait but we can see it starting to play out and I’m ready to go”
Since being promoted by the Wheat Kings in November, MacGillivray and his staff have been studying, watching film and preparing for the WHL’s Return to Play. Now on the eve of training camp, the new boss says the excitement is starting to boil over.
“To illustrate it best, we had a check in time on Saturday from 5-7pm and we had 95% of our players here by 5:15,” chuckled MacGillivray. “Even though they are entering a bubble for 60+ days, these players are super excited to get into some sort of hockey routine again.”
While there is always pressure to perform at the WHL level, MacGillivray knows that for the majority of the 24 players in camp, the amount of time between competitive on-ice sessions is an immense challenge to overcome.
“We have seven days of camp here where these players can get some reps in. We’re all excited but we can’t forget that these guys haven't played in a game in over a year. That's a long stretch of time without hockey. There may be some surprises. Some guys who aren’t at the level they should be at and the other way around too. There are a lot of unknowns.”
Training camp will come and go in a hurry. Most teams will hit the ice only once per day for the next seven days, meaning that time on the ice is valuable when it comes to implementing a new game plan.
“We want to be a hard working team. We want to establish that right from the get go. We will be moving up and down the ice at a high pace. We want to get the boys going north & south as soon as possible and establish good habits early on in camp. The guys who have been here before will be heavily relied on to lead the way and establish the work ethic and habits we expect.”
The Wheat Kings will open up training camp at the Brandt Centre tomorrow afternoon, their first on ice session as a team in 350+ days.
The season officially opens on Friday March 12th vs the Moose Jaw Warriors at 4:00 p.m. (3:30 pre-game show)
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