Sometimes as a head coach you have to go actively looking for a job. Other times, the job comes looking for you.
That was the situation that presented itself to Selkirk Steelers head coach Wayne Bartley this summer. The Killarney native was working with his staff for this spring’s Canada Winter Games when a phone call thrust him back into the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
“I was sitting in the dressing room with the under-16 program of excellence (POE), the team I’ll be coaching for the Canada Winter Games, when I got a call from one of the owners (of the Steelers) asking me if I was interested,” he said. “From there, five or six days later I met with the team, and it all ended up happening pretty quickly.”
Bartley has a long and extensively history in hockey, but this is his first stint as a head coach in the MJHL. He previously served as an assistant coach to the now-relocated Winnipeg Saints back in 2011-12.
“I was there one year with David Anning (now an assistant with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL), and we had a good run there, made it to the league final and lost to Portage,” said Bartley.
After that he transitioned to the under-16 program in Manitoba, which has led him to a chance to head to British Columbia in 2015 to take part in the Winter Games.
“That will happen in February in Prince George,” said Bartley. “It was a long process, from the Manitoba Winter Games, and taking it down to the top 40 in May, and then we ran a skills event in July, followed by a top 30 camp in August.”
Bartley will also be taking the team to a prep squad tournament at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota in December. That means at times Bartley will have to be away from the Steelers this winter, but he said there’s a strong team in place to work the bench while he’s away.
“There hasn’t been too much overlap until this tournament, because everything was done prior to me taking over the Steelers,” said Bartley.
“This will be the first overlap and I’ll have to miss two games, but I have three very confident coaches on board in Jeff Mitchell, Craig Scott and Joey Rewucki our goalie coach, so for those two games the team will be in good hands.”
Bartley added being involved with the Canada Games’ team gives him some real insight into the best young players who are about to enter the junior ranks in the coming years.
“That’s a bonus for me for being a coach of a MJHL team, because these guys are going to be around for a few years,” he said, adding he’ll be helping out with the POE next year as well. “Most have already been drafted but now we’ll really know what’s out there.”
This year the Steelers are in that large group of teams in the mid to bottom part of the standings, where a good week could send you to fifth and a bad week could send you to 10th.
“We had a huge turnover this year – we were ranked No. 2 in Canada last year for a reason, so we lost our top four or five scorers and knew we’d be lacking in that area,” said Bartley. “So this year we’re winning games 2-1, 3-1, and those are the type of games we’ll have to be in for the rest of the season.
“I’m not happy where we are right now (in the standings), but there’s so much parity, from third down to 11th, and I think most teams are within five points of each other,” he added. “We’re getting better each game, defensively we’re getting better, and like most teams we have some injury problems as well.”
That included a case of strep throat making it’s way though the team, according to Bartley.
“That means we have some younger guys taking on bigger roles, and that will help them down the road,” he said.
Bartley has an extensive playing history as well, winning a pair of league titles with the Steelers back in the 1980s, and also winning a pair of Allan Cup titles with Warroad Lakers. He also played with the U of M and over in Europe. It was at university that he got the coaching bug.
“I played for late Wayne Fleming, and I learned a lot from him – a real player’s coach,” he said.