Convo with the Coach | Taras McEwen

Over 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.

Taras McEwen – Head Coach, Winnipeg Blues

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

TM: I played a little bit, I played one-year Junior B. I kind of grew up in the game. My dad currently works for Vegas, my uncle worked for L.A, he just retired this year. My dad coached in the Western League, coached Junior A in Saskatchewan, so I grew up in the lifestyle, it’s something I’ve always done. Growing up, I always went to the rink. I was a water boy when I was young. Coaching was always something I wanted to do. The minute I finished school and finished playing, I got right into coaching. I was 21 when I started. Jr. B team in Ochapowace on the reserve in Saskatchewan. From there I went to Fort Knox, JR. B as a head coach then Notre Dame in Jr. A as an assistant coach so, it’s kind of something I’ve always wanted to do.

DA: How did you get into coaching?

TM: When you have someone that works in the game… my dads worked in the game his entire life. He’s always been a big supporter, I’ve talked to him about working or coaching in the game. I would work in the hockey schools when I was 14 or 15 years old, I wasn’t in them, but I was coaching them. Doing the video for the instructors. I’ve always had a passion for helping players achieve their best. It’s something I’ve wanted since I was young. I never saw myself as a player more just wanted to get into the game, work in the game as quickly as I could.

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

TM: Some nerves. Some excitement. My first head coaching job, I was 24-year-old, I was a young guy, the youngest coach in Fort Knox’s history and one of the youngest coaches in the league ever. A lot of nerves but I was really excited and grateful for the opportunity. They have a real good program there and some really good people that run that. They gave me the opportunity to step up and be a head coach, they did a lot for my development as a coach, they gave me all the tools and the resources to move on. I was only with them one year before moving to Notre Dame, but that first time when you’re on the bench, there’s a lot of excitement, some flashbacks of what it took to get there… just a real positive experience.

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

TM: I don’t have a least favorite. My one thing for practices, the drills that we do… as long as the drill has purpose for how we want to play the game, then I find it useful. I don’t like throwing a drill into a practice just to kill time. It has to have purpose, it has to represent the type of team we have, the way we wanna play and things we’re working on for game time. With some time now, we get to be creative and try some different things, we can make some things up on our own. As long as the drill has purpose and fits into what we’re doing, we can make any drill work.

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?

TM: When I was in Notre Dame, we had a young player Adam Dawe who played as a 17-year-old. He was an undersized player, he was a commit to Maine… that was my first real experience working with elite players. We also had Ben Duperreault, who we got back from the Western League as a 20-year-old. So, kind of both… one that comes down from the WHL and one going to NCAA Div 1, just to see both ends of it. It was real eye opening to see those two guys, their skill level. Adam is at Maine now, he’s so skilled, I’ve never seen a 17-year-old with a slight build, maybe 5″6, control a game. The SJHL can be rough and tough but he could just enter the zone, control, read the pressure. I was a special player to watch and a guy I’ll follow along with over the next couple years.

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?

TM: My dad. He’s the biggest impact. It’s pretty beneficial that we can talk every day or every second day. When the NHL wasn’t going, he was helping Melville with some coaching stuff. We’re always calling, bouncing back ideas… see how things are going in Saskatchewan and how things are going here… he’s the biggest influence. He’s been through it all. All the ups and the downs, he’s always around for a call to get some advice from.

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

TM: Ben Duperrault, when I coached at Notre Dame, he was a Wilcox kid, he had a lot of energy when he came to the rink. He loved to practice, he had a real good work ethic and when you have kids like that, it’s fun to come to the rink and work with those guys. They are the types you want who come in and work, wanting to get to the next level. We had a lots of those types on that team which was a lot of fun. When they put in the work, it’s fun to watch the development.

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

TM: Oh, that’s a good question. Probably the one team I watched a lot in the playoffs was Vancouver. I’ve been to Vancouver, I went for the World Juniors, it’s a great place to visit and it be a great place to live, they have a good young team and the NHL now, you need good young, drafted players to make up the core. They have it. Some of the guys they’ve added are really good, too. One of those teams I follow and watch what they’re doing.

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

TM: (Laughs), that’s another good one… after a tough loss… whenever you have a tough loss, it’s never easy answering any question. You’re thinking about what you can do better, the video you need to go over… you just want to get back on the bus. Any question after a loss, you just wanna get back to work.

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

TM: 50 Below, I started with them three years ago and they gave me the opportunity to take over as GM and then to coach, they give me every tool, every resource we need to help develop players. Our facility is world class for training our players. Our relationship with the Ice. We get to see so many great people around the rink every day. Always people around to pick their brains and learn from. It’s a real special thing their building here. They make sure the players have everything to help push them to the next level.

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

TM: It’s a little different coming from small town Wilcox, Saskatchewan where there are 300 people in the town but people had told me that Winnipeg can feel like a small town and it kind of does. We always run into lots of people. You see people at the rink and their so supportive. They love hockey. It’s cold here and windy here just like Saskatchewan so that’s good, I enjoy it. People support the team, my family has loved it. It’s just a real positive.

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).

TM: Cooper Hatfield. We brought him in as an 18-year-old goalie last year and to see an 18-year-old goalie jump into a JR. A league, it doesn’t happen where they get a starting role but he did. He split time a bit but Cooper Hatfield… I thought he was one of the best goalies in the league last year, right there with (Matt) Lenz. This year, I think by far he’s the number one goalie. He can play at the next level. Some schools have talked to him and I think he’s one guy that deserves the praise. When you have a young team like we did last year, you’re working into your way and learning new ways and systems and Cooper kept us in every single game last year. The games in the playoffs against Steinbach were tight because of him. He’s a goalie that can go down south and play division one and in my mind, more people need to take notice of this guy.