Midway through his Canadian Interuniversity Sports playing career with the University of New Brunswick, Josh Hepditch realized he wanted to become a coach.
The Fredericton, N.B. native earned his education degree and the way he sees it, as a hockey coach, “you are basically a specialized teacher.”
“Loving hockey and trying to put the teaching with it, that’s basically where it all started,” says Hepditch, an assistant coach with the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he played for four years. “I felt if I could make a career of it, that would be the best thing.”
Shortly after getting married in the summer of 2012, Hepditch and his wife packed their car and drove out for their great B.C. adventure. Hepditch spent two seasons in Creston and remembers his rookie season being a learning experience.
“I learned so much that first year probably by a lot of things I did wrong,” he laughs. “It was a great learning experience. I was thrown right into the fire and there was no other way to learn except do it yourself.”
Part of what he went through was learning about the KIJHL, and how and where to recruit. The biggest thing he discovered is that there is a lot of talent in B.C. He used that talent to recruit teams and was named the league’s Coach of the Year in 2013-14.
“When you are recruiting your own team, I think the biggest fact is to never take a kid who is talented over a kid with character,” he says.
Growing up in the Maritimes, Hepditch says that region of Canada has Junior B leagues, but not at the level of the KIJHL. Being in the KIJHL was a huge stepping stone because he didn’t realize how good a league it is, essentially saying it’s a Junior A league.
“The way we ran our team was like a Junior A team. Kids are committed and they are all trying to get to the next level,” says Hepditch, 36, in his fourth season with the Wildcats. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity that I had in Creston. We loved being there.”
After the KIJHL, Hepditch took a similar position in the Maritime Hockey League with the Amherst Ramblers and also coached the St. Stephen County Aces for two seasons before joining the Wildcats. He continues to learn and everything he has done helps him now. He’s working with players who are striving to get into college and are driven to reach the NHL.
It’s special for Hepditch to be on the Wildcats staff because it’s the team closest to his hometown, and he is an alumnus of the program.
“I’ve got a lot of pride in the organization. We are still chasing that Memorial Cup the organization has never won,” says Hepditch, who has also worked with Hockey Canada coaching the region’s best 16-year-olds. “It’s special to be pursuing that championship. It gives me that extra passion and that extra little burning desire to make it happen.”
While playing for the Wildcats, former NHL coach Ted Nolan was his bench boss, along with
Danny Flynn and Daniel Lacroix. He says they are amazing people with lots of NHL experience. They are influential to him, along with his former UNB coach, Gardiner MacDougall – a huge mentor.
Hepditch also had KIJHL mentors in Jerry Bancks from Kimberley and Terry Jones in Beaver Valley. They were very welcoming to the rookie coach.
“They were willing to help me with anything. I learned so much just coaching against them,” says Hepditch. “I try to instill into our team and use it in my career today. You can’t help but get better.”
Hepditch’s advice to those considering coaching in the KIJHL is to “jump at it.”
“It’s such a great league. You have the opportunity to go in and coach kids that are all aspiring to get to the next level. You are helping shape these kids’ futures,” he says.”They are all going to be leaders in their community. You have that opportunity to be there to guide them. I love the league and the camaraderie of the coaches that are there. There’s a lot of coaches that I coached against there that I learned things from and I respected so much that I still carry in my tool belt today. It’s a great place to go and learn and coach.”