Local brushes elbows with hockey bigwigs
There were no sour grapes from Ron MacKinnon—even without “Grapes” being around.
The Fort Frances resident recently returned from being one of 18 minor hockey coaches from across the country who were selected to attend the Old Dutch Coaching Academy in London from May 23-26.
“I wish it was longer so that we could have heard more stories,” he remarked.
“To crunch it into a couple of days didn’t do it justice.”
MacKinnon got a clear sense of what Kilrea was all about almost immediately.
“He’s very strict—you can tell it’s his way and no other way,” noted MacKinnon, who coaches both girls’ and boys’ minor hockey here.
“He told us about one time he had a kid who was going for the scoring title,” he continued.
“The team was up by five goals and Brian was putting out his third- and fourth-liners a lot because he didn’t want to run up the score.
“He heard the kid mutter about how was he going to win the scoring title sitting on the bench.
“Brian traded the kid a couple of days later.”
MacKinnon said Kilrea had to make a unique shopping trip for some important on-ice equipment on the first day of the academy.
“He didn’t have any skates with him to be on the ice, so he actually went down to the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame and checked out the pair of his they had in there—true story,” chuckled MacKinnon, who got to chat with Kilrea extensively.
Also on hand to lend his expertise was Stan Butler, head coach of the OHL’s North Bay Battalion for the past 15 years and a former bench boss for Team Canada at the world junior hockey championships in 2001 and 2002.
“Stan was running a Midget ‘AAA’ practice and what really stood out was the efficiency,” lauded MacKinnon, who also got to meet another former NHL’er in current London Knights’ head coach Dale Hunter.
“For the most part, everyone was moving all the time and there was no standing in line,” he noted.
“He [Butler] used the whole ice and all the drills he ran were game-oriented,” MacKinnon said.
“Coaches are the biggest thieves when it comes to stealing other coaches’ drills, so the whole practice I was taking notes.”
The lone disappointment for MacKinnon was the absence of the legendary Don “Grapes” Cherry, the star of “Coach’s Corner” on “Hockey Night in Canada” and a close friend of Kilrea.
“[Cherry] had to be in Montreal for the Canadiens’ playoff game that Sunday so he couldn’t make it,” said MacKinnon, who still was thrilled to be part of the whole experience.
“I found out there were more than 3,000 nominations from across the country for the contest,” added MacKinnon, who was nominated by Devlin resident Stephanie Cousineau.
“I have to give a shout out to Old Dutch,” he remarked. “It was all first-class and they treated us like royalty.
“There was even a chauffeur waiting for us when we landed at the airport.
“Anything we needed, they took care of,” MacKinnon said.