Lessons from KIJHL help Wagner with Express

Jeff Wagner/Coquitlam Express website

Jeff Wagner still feels “barely new” as the Coquitlam Express’s assistant coach and director of scouting.

The Express have played 20 of their 54-game B.C. Hockey League schedule and his responsibilities are more narrowed compared to his three years as Head Coach and General Manager with the Fernie Ghostriders, where he wore many hats that included doing social media and marketing. With the Express, Wagner focuses on player development on and off the ice and assists Head Coach and Assistant GM Brandon Shaw where he can. 

“We have already started our recruiting process for next year,” says Wagner, adding he stays in contact with teams throughout North America.

With Fernie, their recruiting hotbed was Alberta and the Kootenay areas. The key aspect that he has enjoyed has been towards on-ice development.

“When I first started coaching, that was my main appetite for the role,” he says. “I want to build relationships and teach as best I can to help these guys get on to the next level.”

Wagner has enjoyed collaborating with new coaches to gain a different perspective on the game. That’s something he did in the KIJHL learning from the coaches he worked with in Creston Valley and Fernie.

“Working with others gives opportunities to grow, to challenge each other,” he says.

Wagner’s time with the Express has been great, especially getting the exposure of the Junior A level and seeing the quality of players.

“My time in the KIJHL, knowing where we wanted to get our guys to and the level we wanted to promote them to the next level, and now being a part of it, has been a really eye-opening experience,” says Wagner. “Learning from our Head Coach Brandon Shaw as well, he has been in our league for five years. Working with him every day, I have learned a lot of valuable stuff and working with the players, some at this level are going to be NCAA  or pro players eventually.”

Wagner is focused on doing his best to support them in their hockey journey, while also learning from them. He was able to get hired for his new role after developing a working relationship with Tali Campbell, who was the GM of the Nanaimo Clippers when the Ghostriders organized camps in collaboration with the BCHL organization. When Wagner saw that the Express were hiring for director of scouting, he reached out to find out if it was something he could do while still fulfilling his responsibilities with Fernie. When the answer was yes, he sent his resume to Campbell, and other changes within Express coaching staff led to the role that Wagner has now..

“It was an opportunity that excited me,” he says. “My time in the KIJHL, I always viewed it as a development segment for myself and used it to get to this level.”

Wagner has taken his KIJHL experiences and applied it to the Express seamlessly.

“At the end of the day, hockey is hockey,” he says. “It’s just faster at our level and the details matter a little bit more. I find the biggest difference between this league and maybe the KIJHL would be that you give a player an opportunity and the shots are faster, and they are more precise. You give them one opportunity and it’s in the back of your net. Those details are magnified quite a bit.”