When the puck drops on the 2016-17 Western Hockey League season, not only will the Kootenay Ice be employing a new starting puck-stopper, they’ll also have a new tutor for their armoured guardians to work with.
Monday morning, the Ice announced the hiring of 36-year-old goaltending coach Jamie McCaig, who replaces 35-year-old Mike Bergren.
“I’m obviously very excited, it’s a good opportunity in a very, very good league,” McCaig said over the phone between on-ice sessions in Edmonton Monday afternoon. “The chance to work with Luke [Pierce] again is exciting. I know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s no fun if it’s not challenging.
“The biggest thing you’ve got to understand in my position is that every guy does it a little bit differently. Carrying that knowledge forward is super important. I like to get to know the goalies I work with, not just at the rink but away from the rink. So much of the game now is how you prepare for things and how you handle stress.
“I like to treat each guy a little bit differently and see how they tick, what works for them, what doesn’t and move forward from there. For me, it’s about not only getting comfortable with each other on the ice, but getting comfortable off of the ice as well.”
A native of Penticton, McCaig previously worked alongside Kootenay Ice head coach Luke Pierce with the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“Every goaltender is different and he’s not going to try and change the way they play or their natural style,” Pierce said Monday afternoon. “It’s just trying to give each guy little things they can help refine… I think these guys get comfortable playing the way they’ve grown up playing. There’s always little ways they can make adjustments or subtle things.
“I think Jamie’s biggest thing is his ability to communicate with them and relate to what they’re going through. He’s been a goaltender at a high level and he knows what it’s like mentally.”
According to Pierce, the familiarity and history with McCaig was the biggest factor in bringing him aboard.
“He’ll be there for them if they’re going through rough patches and he understands me as a coach as well,” Pierce said. “He can sometimes bridge that gap between what goalies maybe don’t understand with what we’re thinking. He can relate to them on a different level that way and, likewise, explain to me a little bit better what they’re thinking at times.”
McCaig previously played at University of Brandon (2000 to 2002) and University of Lethbridge (2003 to 2005). He eventually went on to play 11 games with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL.
He has worked with the Chinese National Women’s hockey team (2009 to 2010) as well as with the Grande Prairie Storm (AJHL), Centennials, La Ronge Ice Wolves (SJHL), Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL) and Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL) over the past nine seasons.
McCaig served as goaltending coach for Canada West at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge and is the co-owner/operator of ATC Goaltending, which is based out of Edmonton.
Bergren had been with the club since the 2012-13 campaign. His employment agreement was not renewed with the hiring of McCaig.
“Mike did a good job here for multiple years with the team,” Pierce said. “I certainly had no issues working with him this year. To me — and you see this happen quite often with different coaches in different places — you start to surround yourself with the people that you feel extremely comfortable with and that was the case with Jamie.
“Had Jamie not been a possibility with us, I don’t think there was any reason for us to make a change with Mike.”
Bergren’s tenure spanned back to the days when the Ice deployed a goaltending tandem featuring Mackenzie Skapski and Wyatt Hoflin. With Hoflin having moved on, McCaig will be tasked with guiding Cranbrook native Payton Lee (62-86-7-4, 3.39 GAA, .884 SP, six shutouts) and 17-year-old sophomore Declan Hobbs (2-14-4-0, 4.61 GAA, .873 SP).
“We’re turning over a different page here now with Payton coming in,” Pierce said. “This is a really big year for Declan Hobbs and potentially another fresh start for him that way.”
Lee was acquired by the Ice in a May trade with the Edmonton Oil Kings, while Hobbs was a third-round selection (53rd overall) at the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
“With Payton, the exciting things is we’re getting a veteran guy who is really excited about coming home to play his last year of junior,” McCaig said. “He’s a guy who has seen and been through a lot of things in the Western Hockey League. All that experience is going to allow him to not only have success in the crease, but help our group out in terms of leadership and maturity.
“With Payton, a lot of what we do is going to be maintenance on the ice, continuing to refine fundamental things, review some video and manage how he is handling the workload. That’s the biggest thing with a veteran guy. He is at this point and gotten through the league because he is very capable.”
Lee went 12-20-3-1 with a 3.36 GAA, .886 SP and one shutout over 39 games split between the Oil Kings and Vancouver Giants in 2015-16.
“With Declan, obviously he is going into a really exciting year,” McCaig said. “He, along with Wyatt last year, there were some tough nights. He got a lot of experience and some of it was tough experience to get, for sure. But I know he is motivated and looking forward to pushing Payton and taking some of his starts away.
“Watching some video on [Hobbs], which I’ve done already, it’s just simple things — how do you manage the rush, how are you handling that first-shot opportunity. There are some things that we’ll kind of work on, but with him, he has a really bright future.”
Hobbs went 2-14-3-0 with a 4.66 GAA and .873 SP during his rookie campaign in Cranbrook.
McCaig said he hopes to meet with both Lee and Hobbs at some point in the off-season in order to get on the same page and set the stage for success come training camp.
Being based out of Edmonton, the expectation is for McCaig to make at least one trip per month to Cranbrook in order to work with both Lee and Hobbs.
Ice Chips: The Ice announced the signing of goaltender Jesse Makaj, the team’s second-round selection (23rd overall) at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, on May 24. The 6-foot-2 Makaj, a native of North Vancouver, suited up for the North Shore Winter Club this past season, registering a 1.71 GAA and helping his squad to a silver-medal finish at the 2016 B.C. Bantam Tier 1 Championship. He is expected at Kootenay Ice training camp this fall but won’t be eligible for full-time WHL duties until the 2017-18 season…