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Photo credit: Boris Minkevich/Winnipeg Free Press

Convo with the Coach | Billy Keane

Over the next 12 weeks we’ll get to know the coaches from across the MJHL.

Dave Anthony asked all the coaches 12 questions and they shared their hockey history, how they got into coaching and a whole lot more.

We always get to hear their names, now let’s get to know the men behind the bench.

Billy Keane – Head Coach OCN Blizzard

DA: What’s your hockey background? Did you play?

BK: I grew up in Winnipeg, playing with the Assiniboine Park Rangers and the Winnipeg Monarchs at the AA and AAA level. Went on to play in the MMJHL for the Charleswood Hawks in my 17- and 18-year-old years. Then, the Fort Garry Blues, at that time. They’ve evolved into the Winnipeg South and the Winnipeg Blues. I got a scholarship to the University of Alaska Anchorage out of the MJHL. Played my first year NCAA then transferred back to University of Manitoba and graduated as a student athlete. I then got an opportunity to get into the coaching ranks at UofM right after I graduated. Was at UofM from ’89 to ’99 as a member of the coaching staff. I went back from ’07-’09 and in between I was involved in coaching in the MJHL.

DA: How did you get into coaching?

BK: I would say my dad, actually. My dad was a coach to me when I was growing up and he was a great, great person to lean on in terms of his humor and his interest and passion. He was a great role model for us as players. Certainly, I developed a passion for it watching his energy and his passion, his love of the game. That’s for sure where it started from.

DA: What do you remember feeling standing on the bench as a head coach for the first time?

BK: Boy, that’s a good question. That’s, back in 1999-2000 around there. You know, it’s just another challenge. Whether you’re behind the bench as an assistant coach or behind the bench as a head coach, you’re behind the bench. You’re with the guys and preparing with them through the week and getting ready for the game. It’s an exciting experience.

DA: What is your favorite or least favorite practice drill to run?

BK: I got lots of favorites. The least favorites they disappear. You put a big black X over the drill and then you never see it again so you forget about it. But I got lots of favorites. The internet provides thousands of opportunities for coaches to learn drills but honestly, I bet you I got 25 that I make modifications from and those are my go-tos. You don’t need to have thousands of drills; you just need 20-25 that you like and you just make adaptations and progressions from those drills and that will benefit you quite a bit.

DA: Is there a trade you’ve made or player recruitment/signing that stands out to you as being one of the best moves you’ve ever made?

BK: I think we all go through it. There are times and years when you figure you have a chance to win and you pull a big deal off at the trade deadline. You hope it’s going to bring you a championship and we’ve done that a few times. I’ll say the deadline times are the most exciting, that’s for sure.

DA: Who from your past (either playing with or being coached by) would you say had a great influence or impact on you as a coach today?

BK: Again, my dad. He’s number 1. I’m a big soccer guy, too. I might have been a better soccer player than a hockey player. My soccer coaches were a big part of my development as a coach as well. I grew up in the Scottish community in Winnipeg and I had some Scottish coaches growing up and they were integral. It’s a different sport but same skill, same passion, same love of the game.

DA: Which former player stands out as one of your favorites to coach or to have around the rink every day?

BK: You know, I don’t want to do any dis-service to any one guy. I’ve had a lot of great characters and a lot of great people that have over the years, come and gone. Every year there’s new groups that have new personalities. That’s a real love for me, the personalities in the game, the personal relationships you develop. I think it goes back to my coach mentor, in a lot of ways was Andy Murray. Through Hockey Canada and through a lot of the things Andy has done over the years, one thing he shared with me and shared with coaches in Hockey Manitoba, was that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I’ve held that close to my heart as my philosophy.

DA: If you could coach an NHL team, which team would it be and why?

BK: Oh boy. I’d have to go with my Boston Bruins, actually. I grew up loving the Boston Bruins in the ’70’s. I could tell you every guy on those championship teams in 1970 and ’72. So, I would say Boston for that reason. I’ve had my heart strings pulled because my younger brother Mike played for Montreal for a lot of years and won a cup in Montreal. Obviously, growing up as a Boston fan, I couldn’t stand Montreal. I don’t use the “H” word very often in my life but I hated Montreal back then. So, then it became a situation for me where when my Bruins played my brothers Canadiens, I was hoping Boston would win 3-2 and my brother would get a goal and an assist in a losing cause. So, I’d say Boston because it was my favorite team growing up.

DA: In a post-game interview, which question do you like answering the least?

BK: We don’t do a whole lot of post-game interviews, to be honest with you. You know, I don’t mind at all talking with the media. It doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I like working with the media, they are promoting the game and its free promotion. I try and make a response as best we can to provide a news outlet with a good piece of work.

DA: Why do you like coaching for the organization you do?

BK: I got into this gig this year… I wasn’t about to drag my family around the globe when the kids were younger. My kids are 26, 24, 22 now. I wasn’t going to globe trot to pursue my coaching dreams. I wanted to stay in Winnipeg. Wanted to raise my family in Winnipeg. Both sets of grandparents are in Winnipeg so the support system was there. I was able to cobble out a career. We’re not a wealthy family but we’re a comfortable family. This job came up this year and for the first time, I left my family. My wife and kids are in Winnipeg. This opportunity really intrigued me. I was with the Blues for a lot of year and the ownership, there were some differences that made it clear I wouldn’t be a part of that group. This chance in OCN came up and quite frankly, they’ve been awful for a couple years. This is a chance for me to come into an organization and work with some coaches that I’m familiar with in Greg Hunter and Nic Rusak, also Kris Menard our director of player personal and head scout. The challenge for us is we want to return this organization back to the glory days and championship years.

DA: What do you like about the town/city you coach for?

BK: This community has a tremendous history. They were almost spoiled to a point because 4 of the first 6 years they were champions. That’s almost unheard of. We’re looking forward to providing this community with more positive things within the hockey program. And, quite frankly, working with the Northern region was really intriguing for me. The region has always been really passionate about its development. We’ve done hockey camps in Thompson and Churchill and up in Grandview and Dauphin. The region itself has had a lot of good players and it’s been getting a bit thin on its development right now so I thought it was a good opportunity to mentor some of the coaches up in this region.

DA: Who’s a current player on your team you feel deserves more attention from fans around the league? (This will be used for a future 12 Takes story).

BK: We’ve got a couple Western Leaguers in our group right now. Evan Herman is someone who’s joined our group, he’s from The Pas and he’s playing for the Prince Albert Raiders. Certainly, when we get back playing and I’m hoping he can resume his playing time for PA because that means the Western League is a go, but boy, since he’s been a part of our group, he’s a dynamo. He’s just a ball of energy on skates. He’s got really good skill, he’s busy, he’s passionate and diligent. He’s a guy that’s been a tremendous addition to our group. He’s a great role model to our group. He’s taken the step to the next level and his passion to become a pro. Great to see him within our group right now and hopefully our guys will take note of.