Mark MacMillan has loved his first season coaching junior hockey with the Summerland Steam.
He took over the Head Coach and General Manager duties of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League organization in late October.
“It’s fun to be at the rink. I think being at the rink every day in this aspect really lessens the blow of not playing,” said MacMillan, who stepped behind the Steam bench after six years of professional hockey, including the last two seasons in Denmark playing for the Herning Blue Fox. “That has been great.”
The Penticton native always knew he was going to be a coach, just perhaps not this quickly.
“I love being able to share my experiences with younger players and see them grasp it and apply it, and then come back to me and be ‘wow, that really worked,’” said MacMillan, “I’ve really enjoyed that part of it.”
The former Montreal Canadiens draft pick, who played four years at the University of North Dakota and began his pro career in the AHL with the St. John’s Ice Caps sees himself as a players coach and something MacMillan experienced during his playing days that he doesn’t want to repeat is the struggle to communicate with his players. He believes he is doing well at that and makes sure the lines of communication with the Steam players is always open, especially for tough conversations.
“One thing I absolutely hate about coaching is telling guys that they are not playing. I wasn’t prepared for how much I hate that,” said MacMillan, of making a player a healthy scratch. “It sucks to tell a kid that is a competitor and wants to play that he is out of the lineup that night. I know how much it sucks for them because I have been there. That for me has been the toughest thing to adjust to.”
MacMillan is honest in telling them why they aren’t playing and he made that clear to them from the beginning he would be that way.
“I also tell them not to take it personally. Just because you are out of the lineup, doesn’t mean the coach doesn’t like you.
“Based on dealing with them, I think guys appreciate it,” continued MacMillan. “I know as a player, I wished coaches were more up front and honest with me going through it a little bit when I was out of the lineup instead of just not saying anything.”
MacMillan feels he has improved in every aspect of being a coach and continues to learn. He intends to keep learning how to run solid practices, keeping the lines of communication open and has learned about dealing with players, which is different with each one.
It appears that the Steam are on their way to clinching a playoff berth and MacMillan is looking forward to that run. He said that is why you play a sport to compete – to play for a championship.
“I think our team is very good. We are young, we have learned a lot over the course of the year,” he said. “I think we are getting better and better as we go along. I love the group I have. They are a really fun group to work with.”