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The Heroes of 2020
The last year and a half has been a combination of satisfaction, frustration and challenges for Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals head coach Billy McGuigan.
The 45-year-old son of Brenda and Len (Barney) McGuigan of Charlottetown had guided his team to a Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL)-best 42-7-3 (won-lost-overtime losses) record when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2019-20 season.
Then, this year, the Caps started 3-1-1 before the pandemic resulted in the schedule being paused. The Caps have not played a game since Nov. 21.
“It’s been different with COVID trying to come up with new drills, keeping the guys thinking and wanting to be on the ice,” said McGuigan. “Every day, you try to come up with something new for them. (Assistant coaches) Jason (Gallant) and Morgan (McNeill) have done a great job that way.”
The Caps' accomplishments under McGuigan have not gone unnoticed. After previously named the 2019-20 MHL and Canadian Junior Hockey League coach of the year, McGuigan is the 2020 Sport P.E.I. coach of the year.
McGuigan said it is “a great accomplishment” to be recognized by the provincial sport body.
“I have always been blessed to have a great staff and great people around me,” said McGuigan. “When you have Pat McIver as your general manager, he works hard every day to put the best players you can possibly get in place. It makes it easy to go out and coach them.
“We all work great as a team and we continue to strive to be the best. Our program is getting recognized for that now.”
McIver said the organization is proud of McGuigan and his staff. He praised their work ethic and feels McGuigan is “very deserving” of the award.
“We’ve had a lot of winning years and a success since Billy came in,” said McIver. “Billy is very well prepared and has the guys ready to go. He’s been a staple around here and has been very good for the program.”
This is Billy McGuigan’s Western Caps’ head coaching resumé:
Season W L OL
2020-21 3 1 1
2019-20 42 7 3
2018-19 40 8 2
2017-18 33 16 1
2016-17 25 22 3
2015-16 34 12 1
2014-15 18 17 5
2013-14 43 7 2
2011-12 26 21 5
Hockey has always been a big part of McGuigan’s life. He grew up playing minor hockey in Charlottetown. His playing career included one season in the Ontario Hockey League with Peterborough and Kitchener. From there, he went on to play four seasons of minor pro hockey in the United States.
“I don’t know if coaching was something I ever really thought of as a player,” said McGuigan. “I came home and knew I was going to take the corrections (course) at the Atlantic Police Academy.
“At that time, my brother (Mike) was playing midget hockey (in Charlottetown). They asked me if I was interested in going and giving them a hand as an assistant coach (under head coach Vernon Frizzell).
“I enjoyed it and wanted to branch out on my own and be a head coach. We did that the next year.”
The following season, McGuigan took over as head coach of the Charlottetown Abbies’ under-18 AAA team. The Abbies won the 2002 provincial title and advanced to the final of the Atlantic championship, where they lost to the Sidney Crosby-led Dartmouth Subways in Kensington.
McGuigan would also serve as head coach of the Charlottetown under-15 team before joining Jeff Squires’ staff as an assistant coach with the Junior A Abbies.
McGuigan spent 2 ½ years as an assistant coach with the Abbies before taking over as head coach for 2 1/2 seasons, starting a long association with the MHL.
After the Abbies ceased operations, McGuigan served as general manager and head coach of the Miramichi Timberwolves for three years.
He and his family moved to Summerside, where his wife, Tammy, is an elementary school teacher. He spent two years with the Caps, which included an MHL title and a silver medal at the 2013 Canadian junior A hockey championship on home ice.
One season in WHL
Next up, McGuigan spent the 2013-14 season as an assistant coach of the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League (WHL). He would rejoin the Caps as head coach in October 2014.
Overall, he has been a head coach in the MHL for approximately 14 ½ years.
McGuigan said every day is a learning day in hockey as both the players and the approach to coaching have changed.
"That old-style coaching has gone by the wayside. You have to adapt to your players, you have to keep things interesting, you have to make sure you are always giving them a reason why you are doing things. … You have to be on your toes and be ever-evolving, picking things up as you go and learning. You have to adapt to certain situations.”
Caps forward and team captain Josh MacDonald of Cornwall is in his fourth season playing for McGuigan and appreciates his coaching style.
“He is hard-nosed, he’s right to the point, and he likes to have fun as well. He’s a hard-working guy, and he wants his players to be like that, too.
“Every day at the rink is fun, but we are serious, and that’s why we win hockey games.”
McGuigan said his relationship with the players is much more than boss and employee. He takes pride in caring for them, and his office door is always open.
“If they know you care and know you are going to bat for them, then they will play for you,” said McGuigan. “You have to be in it for the right reasons, no matter what level you are in.”
MacDonald said McGuigan understands where to draw the line when he can be “your buddy” and when he needs to be a coach.
“I wouldn't have been here for four years if he wasn't a great coach," added MacDonald.
McIver said continuity with McGuigan behind the bench has been important for the Caps. It is one less area to worry about each year.
"Billy is very passionate, loves coaching, loves being around the team, loves hockey and will probably be a coach for life, regardless if it's here or if he moves up a level," said McIver.
These are the previous 10 recipients of Sport P.E.I.’s coach of the year award:
2019 – Rob McCormack (baseball).
2018 – Peter Gallant (curling).
2017 – Peter Gallant (curling).
2016 – Josh Whitty (basketball).
2015 – Judy Hale (biathlon).
2014 – John Power (squash).
2013 – Scott Morrison (basketball).
2012 – Bruce Donaldson (hockey).
2011 – Howard Watts and John Chiasson (boxing).
2010 – John Diamond (soccer).
Along with adjusting to an ever-evolving sport, admits he has made a crucial adjustment over the years. He previously would carry a lot of the weight himself and try to micromanage everything. Today, he has learned to adapt by delegating responsibilities to his assistant coaches.
“Every day is not going to be perfect, but you learn, live and go and adapt each day," said McGuigan. "You are not going to win a championship in September; you win it at the end of the year.
“I’m a lot less hot around the collar now. Over the years, you experience so much, and you learn and grow. You realize there are mistakes made, and you want to correct them, but there is a process to it.”
McGuigan acknowledges he is a different coach today than he was two years ago, let alone 10 years ago. But one thing that has not changed is his passion for the sport.
“I am learning every day, and I love being at the rink,” said McGuigan. “To me, it’s not work; it’s enjoyable, and I love being around the players.”