A Way Of Life

AHockey is a way of life for so many Maritimers.

We all have our own unique stories in the game.

From subtle beginnings to memorable Championship experiences, hockey becomes more than just a game, it shapes our lives.

That’s what makes Billy McGuigan’s journey in the game so special.  

Hockey has been a part of his life as long as he can remember.  

From playing professionally to stepping behind the bench, McGuigan’s passion and love for the unparalleled.

The Year that Could Have Been

This was one of those years where the coaches and players alike know how special it really was to be part of the team, a championship calibre team.

The Summerside Western Capitals were a team destine for greatness.

Unfortunately the Caps never had the opportunity to show how great they could have been.

“This was a once in a generation type team,” said McGuigan.

“What made this team special was that we had the vast majority of local Island players and players that had been through some very big highs and lows as a group.”

The 2019-2020 Summerside Western Capitals had it all, they were built to win, built to win it all.

“Brodie (MacArthur), Kallum (Muirhead) and Brodie (MacMillan) played here for four seasons.”

“I take a lot of pride in developing players and teams as a whole.”

“I was most proud of this group, they were special.”

The long-time coach loves reflecting on that trios contributions.

“If you look back on this group’s 4 year guys Brodie lead our team in scoring four years ago with only 50 pts.”

“Kallum  finished 2016-2017 rookie season with 42 pts second on our team and Brodie was an undrafted D man in 2016-2017 that played four years and developed into a top pairing D in his final two seasons and was an assistant captain.”  

MacArthur and Muirhead finished their final season with the Caps with over 100 pts.

The three year Caps also played a vital role in the teams success.

“I believe, Josh (MacDonald) has become the top penalty killer in the MHL and his point totals improved in every season.”

“Cameron (Roberts) found himself finding it hard to get into the lineup in year one to becoming a top six forward the last two years while Zach (Thususka) took his role as a power forward to the next level.”

“Zach’s points average increased year by year.”

McGuigan’s three year group was capped off by “the Dominator” Dominic Tmej.

“Dominic was outstanding,” McGuigan said proudly.

“He became one of the best of all time.”

“The three year group of players was the core of this hockey season,” McGuigan explained.

“We had some great two-year guys as well like Jacob Arsenault that would do anything for his teammates and watching him grow to be a leader.” 

“Marc Richard took his PK role to a new level.”

Finally, the return to Summerside of top end forward Marc Andre Lecouffe,  as well we had a cast of younger guys that gave this team heart.”

“This years team had everything, leadership, grit, playoff sandpaper and tons of character. We had the best skill and never got pushed around and we could play a speed game, a skill game or battle with anyone.”

McGuigan points to the Caps experience and culture as the foundation to their success.

“The thing this team had and the reason we were so good is they were now experienced.”

“We felt our season prior taught us a lot about what it takes as team. You put all this together and you find yourself looking at team that was on a mission.”

Just when people thought the Caps couldn’t get any better, the organization landed the biggest asset of them all which would have undoubtedly led them to the promise land.

“We felt we had an incredible team before January 10th, but then we got word Carson MacKinnon was interested in coming back home to play in Summerside.”

Our GM Pat McIver is always in the fight and he had a big task in getting Carson back.”

“It was a stressful time, but he always manages to get it done. We spent a lot of time on the phone and Carson was maybe the biggest January 10th acquisition in league history,” admitted McGuigan.

“When Carson played his first two games, getting hat tricks, we felt we were at another level.”

McGuigan and is squad were well on their way until the horrific COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The year that could have been for the Western Capitals was over.

“It was devastating for us as a staff,” confessed McGuigan.

“Pat and myself spent a lot time wiping tears away.”

“You put a lot of time into building teams to have a chance at winning and we felt this was our best chance since 2012-2013, as we were one game shy of breaking that record.”

“The most disappointing aspect of all of this is for the 20-year old’s.”  

 “The guys that we have been with for three to four seasons, also, guys like Jacob Arsenault who had worked so hard, had bounced around in the Q, found a home in Summerside and was back loving hockey again.”

“It was disappointing for the players mostly, this team was ready to battle at and RBC.”  

A Tremendous Honour

Billy McGuigan and his staff were left to pick up the pieces after the devastating end of their monumental season.

The Capitals were ranked 2nd in the nation when the season came to grinding halt.

A promising season may have ended, but it was time to honour individual efforts.

McGuigan and Caps success didn’t go unnoticed.

Hockey is the ultimate team game and Billy McGuigan is the ultimate team guy.

McGuigan gets uncomfortable when talking about his place and role in the game.

It’s not insecurity, it’s all about the team dynamic.

You see Billy McGuigan wears his heart on his sleeve.

That’s what makes his coach of the year honours in the Maritime Hockey League and Canadian Junior Hockey League so special.

“It’s hard to express in words the magnitude of winning a prestigious award like this,” confessed McGuigan.

“Winning Coach of the Year in the MHL was an honour, winning it for the second time was extra special, but having your peers vote for it makes Coach of the Year in the MHL really special.”

“To be recognized across Canada as the top coach means so much more.”

“It’s special because the CJHL has 130 teams across 10 Leagues in Canada.”

“Our staff were the first ever CJHL Coach of the Year Finalist from the MHL in 2012-2013, and now to be finalist again and this time to win is absolutely amazing.”

“I was humble to accept the award on behalf of the Capitals staff, receiving an award like this a reflection of our staff and players.”

“This is as much a team award as any,” McGuigan said proudly.

“I would trade this in any day for a chance to have a playoff with this group and to have an opportunity to battle and compete for a championship again.”

“This type of award gives a coach relevance I believe, and the result of a lot of hard work. The fact that this award has never come east of Toronto tells you how special of an honour it is.”

“The only down side is I will be presented the award virtually at the NHLCA conference instead of in person like past year during NHL draft weekend.”

“COVID-19 has taken away our season and has taken away the opportunity to share this with anyone.”

“My goal for the upcoming season is have our staff win it again and actually be able to accept it in person and share it with them.”

 A Track Record of Development

Junior hockey is the lifeblood of the game in this country.

It brings small rural communities together like no other.

Junior hockey has a way of connecting us all, especially when local talent plays a pivotal role in success.

Young junior hockey players become role models and local hockey heroes for the next generation of players coming up through the ranks.

Playing for your hometown team means something.

Billy McGuigan understands the role junior hockey can have in empowering young players.

McGuigan has incredible track record of drafting and developing.   

How special is to work with local kids from the Island and to continue to grow the game? 

“I believe we are very fortunate in Summerside to have as much talent as we do here on PEI,” McGuigan said proudly.

“PEI kids playing for Summerside have a lot of Island pride.”

“We are lucky due to the fact there is only one Jr. A team in our province.  We typically like to draft as many island kids as we can and there is a good reason for that.”

“In many cases we know the family and understand what type of person we are getting.”

Perhaps it’s all about the bloodlines.

“My family is a harness racing family and when I talk hockey with my father and a we are talking about a potential prospect or a new player it quickly goes to ‘who’s his parents?’”

“My father claims that athletes are like race horses and breeding is important. I guess I have found myself asking those same questions now as crazy as it sounds,” McGuigan said laughing.

McGuigan is always quick to deflect all the credit.

“Justin Harrison has been our Head Scout in Summerside and he was my Head Scout in Miramichi when I coached there.”

“Justin sees a lot of games and has an excellent pulse on players across Atlantic Canada. Every player in Atlantic Canada is given a questionnaire to fill out prior to the draft and it’s an excellent opportunity to get to know the person,” McGuigan said.

“Pat is a hard-working GM, we both love to win hockey games. Pat will work tirelessly to make a trade, make a move that will give us a chance, or make a move that we feel will help our team.”

For McGuigan it’s all about providing an opportunity.

“On the development side I believe in opportunity, and I think every player has an opportunity when he arrives in Summerside.”

“I’m not afraid of signing a 16-year-old player out of training camp, giving a player a chance that’s undrafted or a walk on.”

“If a player can help our team win games, age is not an obstacle.”

“As the player you need to take advantage of an opportunity.

“As a staff we love coming to the rink and being around the guys. I offer an environment that is fun and we have some laughs, but players know when it’s time for business.”

With opportunity comes development and with development there’s always going to be growth through teaching.

“Making mistakes is part of growing and we understand that. I like to take a lighter side approach with lots of sarcasm. I feel kids thrive when they aren’t afraid, give them trust & confidence, understand I am human and will make mistakes, know that I care for them and realize I have their back.”

“I put a great emphasis on community.  I believe it is important to get our players, staff and myself into the community. My assistant coach, Jason Gallant, is an excellent skills coach and will help players with individual skills. It’s becoming increasingly more important in development.  My other assistant Coach, Jason “Lefty” Gallant, yes my both assistant Coach’s names are Jason Gallant. Lefty ran our D and was always working on skill development and I believe we had a really good balance of individual skills and team skills.”   

“The Times They Are a Changing”

Billy McGuigan has seen it all when it comes the game of hockey.

There’s no question as a coach the times they are changing.

 How has the game and league changed over the years?  

“The game has changed so much,” confessed McGuigan.

“I think there is much more emphasis on individual skill and offence with all five players. The game is much better now, in my opinion.”

“The speed of the game is incredible, the players are faster and more skilled. There is a big emphasis on speed and skating.   Obviously, fighting is almost nonexistent now and I think it’s just a better product over all,” the former hard nose gritty forward said.

What about the MHL, how much as that changed over the years?

“The league has adapted and I think the MHL is a very under-rated league.”

What about the role of the coach?

“Coaching has evolved and you need to be prepared.”

“We have some great coaches in our league and players now a days want to see that you care about them and they like to know how you are going to help them achieve their goals.”

“As a Coach you are dealing with twenty five individuals all wanting to know how you are going to help them improve.  The use of video for us in Summerside is very important to me and we feel it’s a good teaching tool to create a learning environment because you can’t fool video,” stressed McGuigan.

McGuigan played four years of professional hockey before his coaching career.

The game of hockey has been part of McGuigan’s life as long as he can remember.

The veteran bench boss still has coaching dreams and aspirations.

Where does MacGuigan see himself coaching in the next five years?  

“That’s a very tough question,” admitted McGuigan.

“I love coaching and I have goals like anyone else.”

“My first goal is to bring another championship back to Summerside.”

“I’m very proud of everything we have accomplished in Summerside with the Capitals and also what we have accomplished in the community.

“Pat McIver, Thomas Waugh, Justin Harrison, Todd Richard and Joey Borden have been together for eight years and I believe we complement each other as a team. We have accomplished so much not just on the ice, but off the ice.”

“I don’t have the perfect answer. I always wanted an opportunity to be involved in the ownership of a Jr. team.”

“I’m currently a Capital and this is home for my family.”

For McGuigan it’s all about hard work.

“I just put my head down, work opportunities typically happen each off season. Like any coach you would like to coach in the NHL.”

“I like to joke that I am one letter away in the MHL.”

“I don’t think I can say exactly where I will be in five years, but I hope I’m still coaching.”

“I love the opportunity to work in a team environment and winning hockey games together, it’s what wakes me up in the morning,” said a reflective McGuigan.

“Coaching in Summerside is very special with past coaches like Gerard Gallant, Doug MacLean, Jim Clark, Dave Cameron, Gordie Dwyer, Grant Sonier all paving the way.”

“Seeing what those guys have accomplished in hockey keeps me believing and dreaming.”

MacGuigan had a brief run in the Canadian Hockey League as an assistant coach 2013-2014.

A logical transition at this point would see McGuigan jump into the QMJHL.

That opportunity just hasn’t come his.

 Why haven’t Q teams approached the veteran coach?

“Personally I struggle with question.”

“Honesty I feel that I’m not a great networker and I don’t put myself out there like many coaches do. It seems you need to always be selling yourself to get coaching opportunities or a lot of times its who you know and of course you make those connections by networking,” confessed McGuigan.

“Living in Summerside where there is only one Jr. hockey team with no Major Jr.  hockey, no college hockey or pro hockey it is not a great market to network.”

“For me the next level is essentially an hour away. I feel sometimes you maybe get forgotten in this area where your kind of out of sight out of mind.”

“In Ontario and the WHL there are so many teams in close proximity to each other and so many different levels you see a lot more Jr. A coaches getting opportunities as Head Coaches in major junior.

“Getting an opportunity to coach Major Jr. in the Maritimes would be great.”

“To get an opportunity in the CHL or Pro hockey as a Head Coach would certainly be intriguing.”

“I have spoken to OHL teams and WHL teams, but no offers that I would feel are worth leaving Summerside.”

“In this game you just need one person in the right place to believe in you. In 2013-2014 I coached in the WHL where I learned a tremendous amount. Our Team was picked to finish in the basement, but we ended up finishing first in the division and a banner hangs in the Brandt Center in Regina, I was lucky to be a part of.

Nevertheless, McGuigan’s heart and mind was fixated on his family that year.

“I was dealing with a family illness situation at that time.”

“I wasn’t myself.”

“I didn’t feel being 5000 kilometres away from family was where I needed to be that time in my life.”

Hockey dreams are shared amongst players and coaches.

Billy McGuigan believes he could make a difference if he was given another opportunity.

For now it’s all about the dream and putting in the work.

“I believe in hard work, I believe in the people I work with as an organization, until then we will continue to work on bringing another title to Summerside.”

“I feel my job now is just to keep building my case as a coach.

McGuigan’s resume speaks for itself.

“I think I’m on the right path,” confessed McGuigan.

Behind the Scenes

Behind every successful Coach there’s a supportive wife and family.

 “My family is first,” said an emotional McGuigan.

“My family means the world to me.  My wife Tammy is my biggest support system. We are a team and we work like a team raising our three children.”

“Being a hockey coach and working part time in corrections makes for a busy winter, but like any good team we rely on hard work, trust, loyalty and commitment.”

My daughters Emmalee and Brooke and my son Clarke are all hockey players as well as multisport athletes.  They love the Capitals and love being part of the Caps.”

Hockey is quite simply a way of life and for McGuigan it’s all about giving back to the game and community they love.

“As a family, anywhere I have coached we all become a big part of the community.”

“They sacrifice a lot of time with their Dad and I miss out on watching some of their sports, but the great thing for me when I’m on the road they will watch games as a family on the computer.”

“They never miss a game in Summerside and my parents never miss a game either, they all feel a part of the Capitals.”

What has McGuigan learned about himself as a person and a coach over all the years?

“I have learned a lot and I am still learning.”

“I have changed a lot as a person and as a coach since my early years in coaching. Obviously, that comes with experience and age and I have adapted a lot with the game.  I have learned that there is always someone smarter and better than you.”

“My priority and having kids had given me new perspective and I don’t take myself nearly as serious.”

“I really have learned that the biggest part of coaching now a days is building relationships and by doing that I have tried to just be a better person,” explained McGuigan.

“I try to instill in my players as a team that we are representing the Capitals organization and yourself. There is no greater complement than to hear someone say your players were so nice to my kid, they had great manners or the bus driver says what a great bunch of guys.”

“I always want to improve things about myself as a person I want to show these young men it’s our duty to be good people and citizens.”

Some long time junior coaches has focus on the past or have regrets.

That’s certainly not the case for McGuigan.

“Regret is something I don’t have much of,” admitted McGuigan.

“I love what I do.”

“As a coach you always have learning experiences and I continue to learn from my experiences.”

I believe today I am a much better coach than I was yesterday.”

“I have great people surrounding me.”

McGuigan’s biggest regret truly reveals his character as a coach and person.

“My only regret I have is I wish I knew then, what I do now, when I started coaching.”

“As Gardiner MacDougall says, “I’m just getting started!” 

“Gardiner has been a tremendous influence and mentor for me as a coach, so I guess, I’m just getting started,” McGuigan said proudly.

Just getting started, but many fond memories within the game.

“I have a lot fond memories.”

“Winning a Championship as a first-year midget coach on PEI was one of the greatest years I had Coaching.”

“We had a great team and I love that group of players. We had so much fun.”

“I was coaching with my brother who had to leave competitive hockey due to a heart condition and that’s why I coached.”

“Winning a Championship with Pat McIver and the staff in Summerside was really special.”

“Going to the NHL draft last year to see and be with the Spence family when Jordan got drafted was an amazing story one that I’m still very proud of.”

Through all the ups and downs, wins and losses, Billy McGuigan has never lost sight of what matters most.

Love of family, following your dreams and being passionate about the game and giving back to the game he loves.

Hockey is simply a way of life for Billy McGuigan.

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