University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men’s hockey head coach Patrick Grandmaître may only be in his second season in the league, but he’s already earning recognition on the national stage. Grandmaître served as an assistant coach with the U SPORTS All-Star team from December 13-14 in St. Catharines, Ont.
“Overall, it was a pretty amazing experience,” Grandmaître said. “Just spending time with other coaches running other programs in different conferences, picking their brains on different situations, it’s a very valuable experience as a coach, and obviously having the success we did on the ice with the team. It’s a cherry on top I guess.”
Tasked with taking on Hockey Canada’s World Junior Championship Selection Camp roster, the U SPORTS All-Stars took the first game by a score of 3-0, then followed it up with a 4-3 win the next day. “We had a job there — to push Team Canada, to push these young players to compete and show what they can do in the crunch,” Grandmaître said. “Hockey Canada was very vocal on thanking us for pushing them in the right way. There was barely any chippy play or dangerous play, or aggression. Just good intense hockey,” he said.
Building an All-Star team
While Grandmaître, in addition to Head Coach Brad Peddle (St. FX) and fellow assistants Mark Howell (Calgary) and Trevor Stienburg (Saint Mary’s), guided the team to a pair of wins in December, the work as All-Star coaches didn’t begin when they landed in St. Catharines. First, they had to build a roster of 21 players to compete against Team Canada.
Grandmaître stressed assembling an All-Star team isn’t as simple as choosing the best scorers and offensive defencemen to round out the blue line.
“The team was built to compete at a high level and battle. That’s what we showed,” Grandmaître said. “Obviously there’s lots of players that could have been on that team.” The coaches also had to submit their All-Star selections by early November, which only gave players a handful of games to make their case within U SPORTS action. Players off to a slow start, or rookie yet to showcase their play within the league could have missed the window as a result.
Only four of the 21 players on the roster came from Ontario University Athletics, but Grandmaître stressed this isn’t indicative of the quality of the talent within the conference compared to Atlantic University Athletics and Canada West. “Two coaches [returning from last years staff] were a bit more influential on the picks we did to bring a highly competitive team,” Grandmaître said. “It wasn’t that their reputation was at stake, but it was their second time around and they knew what they had to bring to compete … We were trying to build the most competitive team to play good competitive hockey and be comfortable with that team and we were going into the games.”
All-Stars sweep Team Canada for first time
In their first game against the Selection Camp team, the All-Stars were able to hang onto a one-goal lead late before burying two empty net goals to clinch the 3-0 victory. “You get to that moment where, the last five minutes you really think we’re going to win this,” Grandmaître said. “You get people buying in, trying to win big face-offs, keeping it simple, dumping it in and not trying crazy plays. You get that side of our team, which was built not as an all-star team.”
“We played well, but we didn’t play a complete game — at times we felt a bit overwhelmed by their speed. But what we never lacked was guys trying to block shots and play a playoff style of game,” he said. Looking to prove their win was no fluke, the All-Stars returned to the rink the next day in search of a sweep.
“I was asking around Thursday morning how the legs are feeling. A lot of guys were saying legs were feeling pretty heavy,” Grandmaître said. “We didn’t know what type of team would come out for us. We found we played our better hockey on the second day.”
While the All-Stars trailed early in the game, the fought back to tie it, then exchanged pairs of goals over the course of regulation. The game seemed deadlocked and destined for overtime before Jason Fram (Alberta) scored with 6 seconds left to secure the sweep. “Our players, when they saw they could hang in there for a second straight day, started to get a bit more confident, making better plays with the puck and not being so so simplistic,” Grandmaître said. “We were able to carry some of the play way more than in the first day, which allowed us to play more confident.”
Coaching among All-Stars offers plenty to learn
Having returned from St. Catherines and preparing for the second half of the Gee-Gees season, Grandmaître said he had the chance to pick the brains of his peers. “Those are guys with a lot of experience that have been to a lot of national championships,” he said. “It’s good to see that they're not doing one thing and we’re doing something completely different here.”
While coaching some of the best players U SPORTS has to offer, he said he also saw similarities between the All-Stars and players on the Gee-Gees roster. “A lot of our guys are not far off from being all-stars in this league,” he said.
“On a personal note, I got to learn, I got to win some big games and see some good hockey.”
- Cameron Penney