For hockey players, the WHL is a direct pipeline to the pros.
It’s no different for coaches. While jobs behind the bench are much fewer in number, the opportunity to make that jump from junior to pro is the carrot WHL coaches are always looking to chomp.
It’s the primary reason Adam Maglio gave up his gig as head coach of the Prince George Spruce Kings to join the Spokane Chiefs as an associate coach. Maglio just has to look around at the cast of characters he’s now working with to realize he’s getting closer to the NHL.
Ty Smith anchors the Chiefs blueline, grooming his game as a first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils, months after winning the Canadian Hockey League’s top defenceman award. Four other Chiefs – defenceman Filip Kral (Toronto), centre Adam Beckman (Minnesota), left winger Jake McGrew (San Jose) and WHL rookie goalie Lukas Parik (Los Angeles) are also NHL-drafted.
Maglio’s mentor, Chiefs head coach Manny Viveiros, had a job as an NHL assistant last season with the Edmonton Oilers until he was caught up in the off-season purge after the Oilers missed the playoffs for a second-straight season. Spokane hired Viveiros only 18 months after he led the Swift Current Broncos to the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as Western League champions – more reassurance for Maglio he’s going to learn a lot this season about what it takes to be successful.
“He brings a lot of pedigree from his experience in the NHL and it’s been great as far as details we’ve learned as a group that he’s brought with him,” said Maglio. “He was working with (Connor) McDavid and some of the good players Edmonton had and obviously he’s an elite coach at the junior level, winning the league in his previous year to Edmonton.
“He has a real good offensive knack for how to teach the power play. I’ve done that as a head coach and it’s really hard. He teaches our guys to be creative but with structure and that’s been really good for me personally.”
The 33-year-old Maglio didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. He paid his dues in the B.C. Hockey League, leading the Spruce Kings to their first-ever league championship last season and getting them to within one goal of the national championship, a year after he took them to the BCHL final for the first time in team history.
“When I think of my experience in P.G., what I think about most is the opportunities I had that they gave me as an organization and I’m so thankful for it,” Maglio said. “It was a perfect fit and I got the right opportunity at the right time and was in the right place. I still use some of those experiences and will always use them throughout my coaching career.”
Now he’s in the WHL, that’s required a shift in Maglio’s job description.
“At this level it’s very much a pro level and you’re dealing with some pretty elite athletes,” he said. “We’re selling them to move on to pro, we’re not selling them to college here, it’s to play at the NHL level. It’s to make a career right from the Western League to playing the pro game and the coaching changes because of that.
“They’re pretty driven athletes and it’s a working relationship with them, guiding and communicating. It is more two-way here. You’re working with some signed players. They have a contract and they know where their pathway is. At the junior A level, that’s still to be determined, whether it’s going to be pro or getting an education.”
In practices, Maglio teaches the defencemen and penalty killing. He and Viveiros split the duties of pre-scouting, using video clips to show the players opponents’ tendencies and strategies. Maglio breaks down the game the same way he and Alex Evin, his replacement as Spruce Kings head coach, did it working together the past two seasons. He and Evin speak to each other at least once or twice a week to ask each other how they taught certain aspects of the game.
The Chiefs have a much easier travel schedule in the U.S. Division with most of their opponents within a few hours of each other. On some weekends the Chiefs will play a road game and drive back home the same night, in sharp contrast to when Maglio was with the Kings, whose closest opponents are six hours way in Merritt. Spokane is just 2 ½ hours from Maglio’s hometown of Nelson, which allows his parents, Dan and Val, to come down for their games.
“Going into a different role is an adjustment but it’s been really positive, a really good organization and we think we have a really good team, but we’ve had some injuries,” said Maglio. “Our d-corps is pretty solid with Ty back there. He’s the best defenceman in the CHL, a first-rounder, and he’s highly-skilled. We’ve got a lot of skilled, puck-moving defencemen and in the forward group, we do have a bit of skill up there. As a group, the talent level is pretty high as far as playing fast and being able to make plays under pressure.”
The Chiefs are coming off a 6-1 win over the Victoria Royals on Saturday. Spokane just got Smith back from the Devils’ camp after he missed the first three games when starting Lukas Parik went down with a lower-body injury last week and McGrew joined him on the injury shelf with upper- and lower-body ailments. They were not on the bus that left Wednesday for the long trek to Prince George to play the Cougars Friday and Saturday at CN Centre. Maglio knows he won’t get to see the Spruce Kings in action because they’re playing Chilliwack both nights, but the fact they’re playing at home means he will get to spend some time with his former team and Kings’ staff.
The Chiefs (4-3-1-0) lost 3-1 to the Cougars in Spokane on Friday. Maglio was impressed with the Cats’ work ethic and the goaltending of Taylor Gauthier, who made 44 saves to help them defeat an older Chiefs’ team that had eight straight wins against Prince George the previous two seasons.
“(Gauthier) was good and we needed to be much better,” said Maglio. “We didn’t compete very hard and give P.G. credit. They stuck to their gameplan and they were quite physical on us. It was a bit of an eyeopener for our guys and I think it was needed for us. The shots were one thing but I thought P.G. was the better team. They’re young and they work extremely hard.”