McMahon resigns as Muskie girls’ coach

When asked what one thing he would have changed during his five-year tenure behind the bench of the Muskie girls’ hockey team, Jim McMahon took a moment, let out a gasp as if he was about to say something, took another moment, and then replied:
“I probably would’ve ordered a coach bus for every trip instead of a school bus,” he chuckled.
McMahon, among those who brought the idea of a girls’ high school hockey team into fruition, resigned two weeks ago for what he called personal reasons.
Approached by Mark Lafleur five years ago to handle the reins of the team, McMahon, who has been involved in coaching girls’ hockey for close to 10 years, missed his first trip with the black-and-gold two weekends ago when they travelled to Sioux Lookout.
He admitted the feeling was a strange one.
“It was very weird to have all the time on your hands,” he said. “I knew what time the games were and I was thinking of what kind of excitement there was in the locker-room and afterwards wondering what the score was.”
The whole point behind creating the team was to provide an opportunity to play hockey to “a certain age group,” and McMahon stayed committed to the team “to make sure that it was there and that the idea didn’t die off.”
Said Muskie athletic coordinator Shane Bliss, who also serves as the head coach of the Muskie boys’ hockey team: “A lot of kids really enjoyed having him as a coach and they were sad to see him go,” said Muskie athletic co-ordinator Shane Bliss, who also is head coach of the boys’ hockey team.
“He obviously made a positive impact on a number of players he has had over the years,” Bliss added.
So why did McMahon resign? Why did he leave a team that went from being on the losing end of 17-0 losses during its inaugural season in NorWOSSA to only 4-3 losses this season?
Why did he leave with less than a month to go in the season?
“I would say I made a personal decision to leave the team at this time to avoid any distractions for the girls,” said McMahon. “They do have a legitimate shot of having a very successful year and I didn’t want to take away from that.”
So you felt you were being a distraction?
“It could’ve gotten to that point. Without really getting into it, I just didn’t want this affecting their year,” McMahon stressed. “Some of them have been in the trenches and been through the battles, and have cried after getting their butts kicked in Dryden and Kenora, and this is their time.”
McMahon feels he wasn’t pushed out of the door, but conceded he would have finished out the season if his decision was just about hockey and did not involve outside influences.
“There have been some things that have gotten carried away or blown out of proportion,” noted Bliss.
“Some people’s expectations are different from the direction the team is going, but I don’t know how this has evolved to the situation it has become,” he added.
So where is the program at now? McMahon believes for the girls’ program to be at par with the boys’, it must have policies implemented that categorizes things in “black and white” to minimize “the grey areas” that have been evident.
“Policies have to be put in place and without them, the program is only going to keep struggling,” said McMahon, who preferred not to get into the specifics.
Shortly after McMahon’s departure, the players’ parents and school administration gathered in the library at Fort High last Monday for an evening of open conversation on the program, including its strengths and weaknesses.
“The positives were that it gave me a chance to listen from perspectives from a large group of parents,” said Ian Simpson, who until recently was principal at FFHS.
“By the end of the meeting, there was a commitment, a strong commitment, to making the girls’ hockey program at Fort Frances High School strong and viable,” he added.
A ground rule by the school towards its sports teams is that each must follow a set of basic rules, such as players maintaining a certain standard of academic performance. But each one is allowed to put forth team rules, such as curfews.
It is the job of the coaches to make sure these rules are followed.
“I don’t know if we need policies in place or if we need policies to be enforced,” said Bliss.
“The girls’ hockey program shouldn’t be operating under any different policy than the boys’ hockey team, or the football team, or volleyball team, or anything else.”
The girls’ program has been running for only five years, and Bliss sees that as a possible hindrance to the decisions the team wants and needs to make.
“[The boys’ team] has a little more luxury in saying that if you’re not towing the line, we can make a phone call and there would be a kid happy to take your spot,” he noted.
“Whereas with the girls this year, they had just over 20 kids try out, which is a big number for them, and I think they’ve been a little hesitant to make any drastic moves or changes with players because they don’t have a lot waiting in the wings,” Bliss explained.
The boys’ team, for instance, had 75 players try out for this year’s squad.
It’s been widely known that this was probably McMahon’s last season with the team, which he acknowledged as being true because he wants to spend more time with his three grandchildren.
As such, he asked Lynn Kellar to step in as an assistant coach this year, with him being the obvious choice as the next head coach.
But his leaving with less than a month left in the season is a main regret for McMahon. He believes no one is more suited to run the team than Kellar, but remains apologetic to both him and assistant coach Chris Hill.
“I can’t even pretend and even think what was going on in Lynn’s mind,” said McMahon. “We have all this potential to do well in the playoffs, and then bang, this tears the team apart.
“To throw that at them and say, ‘Good luck,’ isn’t fair in any way to them,” he stressed.
But what will be done to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“The school wants the program to get better every year, and there does have to be some things put into place, [but] the coaches need the support,” said Fort High vice-principal Brent Tookenay.
“We’ve taken steps, and have had the meetings, and made some changes with the team,” added Bliss, who is looking at the situation more as an opportunity than a problem.
“We’re looking to move forward and put these problems behind us and hopefully have success here.”
McMahon had a five-year plan going in. After five seasons, he wanted the team to be established and competitive, and believes that team has done that.
And he was a key part to a puzzle that still is being worked on, and that is why his leaving spurred a great deal of emotion from the players.
McMahon gave his farewell speech to the team the Thursday night before their weekend trip to Sioux Lookout earlier this month.
“I told them that when I look around the dressing room, you don’t see anything bad,” he recalled. “You look around and you see people with the potential to do something really good with their lives and to be contributing members of society.
“I told them that it’s not about me being here or not being here, it’s about them and the season they can still have.
“Nobody in that dressing room did anything wrong. Not the players, or the coaching staff,” McMahon stressed. “Nobody will ever be able to take away the memories I have and nobody will be able to take that away from them.”
The team had all signed a card for McMahon, which may have been small in size but was large in substance. And he was grateful for the gesture.
“It was a very emotional moment,” he said. “I didn’t realize what extent I guess the outcome was going to be with me leaving, and they let me know in a very good way.”
As evident by the tears flowing from the players’ eyes, McMahon may be gone, but he will not be forgotten.