Josh Dixon’s playing days ended when he was only 15.
Checked from behind with a head shot after the whistle, he took the advice of two neurologists connected to the team and hung up his skates, but that unprovoked bell-ringer did not end his desire to make a career out of hockey.
“That was it for me playing, unfortunately, so I started coaching right away and I’ve been coaching ever since,” said Dixon. “It all worked out and I’m still in the game.”
The Prince George Cougars are certainly glad of that. They’ve hired the Oakville, Ont., native as their new associate coach.
The 38-year-old Dixon comes to the Cougars with impeccable coaching and educational credentials. Prior to joining the WHL as an assistant coach with the Regina Pats in 2011 he spent eight seasons in the university ranks with Carleton, Calgary and Mount Royal coaching men’s and women’s programs. He also served as a head coach at the Okanagan Hockey Academy. In 2014, after three seasons with the Pats, he was hired as an assistant with the Swift Current Broncos under current Cougar head coach and general manager Mark Lamb, and that season coached Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George. He was twice named an assistant coach for Canada’s teams at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
In 2015, after two years as director of player development for Creative Artists Agency, Dixon began a three-season stint as head coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and in 2019 coached the QMJHL all-stars in the Canada-Russia Super Series.
Dixon replaces Jason Smith, who left the Cougars in August after two seasons in Prince George to take on as assistant coaching position with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League, the Philadelphia Flyers’ top farm team.
In addition to coaching tactics, Dixon also understands the mental side of the game, having earned a masters degree in sports psychology at the University of Calgary. Having worked in Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, he also holds a National Coaching Institute masters degree in high-performance coaching.
Dixon’s understanding of sports psychology and what works to get the most out of teenaged athletes performing the game at the highest level possible will no doubt help the Cougars achieve their goals. He knows the theories well and has had years behind the bench to put those concepts into practice.
“Certainly in major junior, because of the expectations, we expect as coaches and the fans and scouts expect these guys to be pros and be the same player every single night, but that a difficult thing to do at any age, let alone between 16 and 20, so the mental game really becomes really important,” said Dixon.
“The objective is to teaching and developing mental skills is to try to narrow the performance bandwidth so that their best game and worst game are pretty close together and that consistency can really come if you’re strong mentally. You realize how much of the game is mental and as a coach it ends up being a big part of your job and your role.
“We focus so much on the physical and the on-ice and the technical and tactical but the mental is a big part that often gets overlooked.”
Since their Swift Current days, Dixon has remained in touch with Lamb and is looking forward working together with him to mould a young Cougars team and bring the city its first WHL championship.
“I’m really fortunate to get a chance to work with Mark again, someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” said Dixon. “He’s a winner, and a first-class individual and an outstanding coach and general manager. I loved my time working with him in Swift Current. So when the opportunity came to work with him again and try to win a championship it was an easy decision.”
The cancellation of minor hockey season last winter due to the pandemic forced the WHL to delay its draft from the usual time in May and this year it won’t be held until December. The shift means Lamb will be away from the Cougars on scouting trips several times during the season to get a look at the 2006-born players available and Dixon will stay with the team and get back to being the bench boss.
“I was a head coach for the better part of three years in the Quebec league and I know what that job entails,” said Dixon. “But I’ve also been an associate or assistant coach and I know about that role as well. I know how Mark works and what his expectations are and he certainly knows how I work as well, so it should be a good fit.
“When I was in Saint John we had the youngest team in the CHL, we were rebuilding, and Mark was talking about rebuilding out here as well. It was sort of a similar trajectory. The young talent here is really impressive - a lot of guys who can really play, and a lot of depth, from goaltending position out.”
Dixon drove from Georgetown, Ont., and arrived a few days before training camp opened on Thursday. He and his wife Laura have a son, Jake, who turns four on Oct. 4th, two days after the Cougars open the season at CN Centre against the Kamloops Blazers.