By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
Photo: Winkler Flyers
The Winkler Flyers recently recognized their head coach for reaching a major milestone. Ken Pearson, the pride of Neepawa, recently recorded his 500th victory as a coach in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The longtime junior A coach has been a staple in the coaching ranks in Manitoba, having successfully transitioned from player to assistant coach with the Neepawa Natives back in 1994.
“When you get into it after coaching, it’s sometimes because you’re unsure what you want to do,” said Pearson. “I’ve always been a lover of the game of hockey and wanted to be in the game somehow.
“To be in it this long is a little surprising, maybe.”
Pearson spent two more years in Neepawa before moving to Winkler to be an assistant with the Flyers. He also spent half a season in Prince Albert with the WHL’s Raiders assisting Don MacGillivray when he was promoted to interim head coach following the firing of then head coach Chris Stewart.
Pearson returned to the junior A ranks in 1998 as he took over the head coaching job with the Winkler Flyers, a position he kept until the 2002-03 season. Pearson then went to Alberta for two years to coach the Brooks Bandits before returning to the MJHL where he led the Winnipeg Blues between 2004-2008. The highlight during this stretch was a league championship in the 2005-06 season.
“All my seasons are different and special in their own way, but I think the year we won it with the Blues … we weren’t expected to win that year,” said Pearson. “The guys came together at the right time, and they’re guys I still keep in contact with to this day.”
Pearson again went west in 2008, coaching the SJHL’s Battlefords North Stars, but by 2011 he was back in the MJHL with the Flyers – the team he is really synonymous with.
“Winkler is the team I came to in ’96, and I call it my second home,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to stay here as long as I have, thanks to the good people in the organization who have kept me around to do what I love to do.”
His best year in the MJHL during the regular season? That would be in 2001-02 when the Flyers won 47 games (they would go onto lose to the powerhouse OCN Blizzard in the final. His worst year in the MJHL during the regular season? That would be 2014-15 when the Flyers only won 20 games – but they still made the playoffs that year. In fact, throughout his MJHL career, Pearson has never missed out on the post-season party.
Pearson has also taken part in several elite events throughout his career, including coaching the MJHL all-star game in 1996, 1997 and 2001; coaching in the Viking Cup in 2000, the MJHL-SJHL all-star challenge in 2002, won a gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in 2007, coaching the MJHL Prospect’s Game in 2007, and the CAJHL Prospect’s Game in 2008.
Entering the final week of November, the Flyers were part of a three-way tie for first place with OCN and Portage, a point up on Steinbach for fourth and three up on Virden for fifth. Pearson figures the league title is really up for grabs this year.
“I would like to think we have as good a chance as anyone this year,” said Pearson. “There’s a lot of good teams here this year – I think there’s only 10 points which separate first from eighth.
“And that’s great to see that many teams competitive – and it makes each game that much more important.”
Congrats to Ken Pearson. Here’s to the next 500 wins.