Kris Mallette is the Head Coach for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets and began his junior hockey coaching career in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the North Okanagan Knights, first as an assistant coach in 2010-11, then Head Coach from 2011-13. In his final season, he guided the Knights to the KIJHL Final, losing to the Castlegar Rebels in five games. Mallette was part of the Team Canada coaching staff for the 2023 Hlinka/Gretzky Cup July 31-Aug. 5 hosted by Czechia and Slovakia. Canada defended its Gold medal with a 3-2 overtime win over Czechia in front of their home fans after going 3-1.
The KIJHL spoke with Mallette about the gold medal-winning experience. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
KIJHL: What was the feeling like to win gold at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup?
KM: It didn’t come without some challenges and expectations were high to win. We didn’t start the tournament the way we wanted to (9-6 loss to Finland), but continually got better. We played against the home nation in that environment, down early, and battled some adversity. They scored late to go into 3-on-3 overtime. For us to win, it was a goal that we had set out.
KIJHL: What did your role as assistant coach entail?
KM: I had the choice, which was good. The year previous, I ran the forwards and the power-play. This time I was in charge of the defenceman and the penalty kill, which got a lot of work throughout the tournament.
KIJHL: What did you like about how the group played in that tournament?
KM: The scoring and offensive ability wasn’t an issue within our group. (They scored 32 goals leading up to the gold medal game.) We had our challenges. As the tournament progressed, we challenged our players to really buy into the simple work ethic and detail of our game. We feel that our group did that and continually got better as the tournament wore on. It’s a credit to our group. Going into that game against Switzerland, if we don’t win that game by three goals, we don’t make it to the quarter finals and our tournament is done. (Canada won 5-0) We challenged our group to play with the intention of getting three to get in.
KIJHL: What has it been like for you to represent Canada in that role?
KM: Yeah, I’m really fortunate. I have been involved with Hockey Canada in various capacities for six years now. To represent at the U18 level, and continually work through the program and win two gold medals is a huge honour for me. I never got to do it as a player. It was something I always wanted to do as a coach.
Mallette said he eventually wants to be part of the coaching staff for the World Juniors.
KIJHL: What kind of growth have you seen in yourself that will help you as a head coach with Kelowna?
KM: Every year you look back at the season previous and try and build on things you did well or things you think were lacking. Going into these types of environments, where the pressures are high, the competition is great. The athletes are all elite. You go back to recognizing the small fundamentals within your game, the habits, the small details are the most important. Taking back those little parts of the coaching aspect, to reiterate the same messaging to try and prepare these young players to get to the next level. For my group, what I have learned is I have a good handle on things. I do need to make some adjustments. Being in that environment reiterates my thought process is on the right track. It’s not easy coaching Junior hockey players, it’s good, everybody goes through it. Having those coaches around as well within the other leagues to bounce different ideas off and learn from is always really beneficial too.