McGillians on ice

While NHL head coaches Mike Babcock and Guy Boucher have drawn plenty of attention for steering their respective teams to winning records, they aren’t the only McGill grads making waves in the NHL

by Jim Hynes

From the very start, McGill and the game of hockey have been intricately connected. Montrealer James Creighton, BCL1880, is credited with organizing the first official game of indoor hockey in 1875 with a group of players that included some McGill students. Creighton himself would earn a law degree from McGill three years later.

The world’s first official hockey team was the McGill Hockey Club which made its debut in 1877 and its players helped refine the rules for the nascent sport – introducing a rubber puck to the game.

Years later, a brotherly duo that both played for McGill, Frank Patrick, BA1908, and Lester Patrick, left their own lasting mark on the sport, introducing the blue line, the concept of earning assists for helping a teammate score, numbered jerseys and penalty shots, among many other innovations.

One of the greatest teams in NHL history, the Montreal Canadiens of the late-seventies, was backstopped by a tall, scholarly netminder named Ken Dryden, LLB’73, who won the first of his five Stanley Cups in Montreal while still studying law at McGill.

There are plenty of McGill grads who continue to make their mark on the NHL today. Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, BEd’86, is the only coach in history to win the three most coveted prizes in the game – a Stanley Cup (2008), an Olympic gold medal (2010) and a world championship title (2004). Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher, BA’95, BSc(AgrEng)’96, is an early season favourite for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach for the work he has done in turning around the fortunes of the previously hapless Lightning.

Here are some other McGillians making their mark on the NHL.

Mathieu Darche, BCom’00: The journeyman comes home

Mathieu Darche in action

Making it to the NHL has been a long, hard journey for winger Mathieu Darche, BCom’00. And then, when he did, as part of a productive fourth line for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2007-08, it didn’t last. He would go on to spend three more years in the minors in the American Hockey League before making it back to the NHL.

The wait would be almost worth it, though. When Darche finally did return to the NHL, it would be as a member of his hometown Montreal Canadiens, helping the team make its improbable trek to the Eastern Conference finals last spring, earning the affection of millions of Montrealers in the process.

Jeff Halpern, Darche’s current linemate with the Habs and a former teammate in Tampa Bay, is mystified by the fact that Darche hasn’t played more games at the NHL level. “He’s a very underrated player,” Halpern told the Montreal Gazette. “He’s able to cycle the puck and bang and still have his head up to make plays.”

The well-travelled Darche has been the top goal-scorer with five separate AHL teams. In nine AHL seasons, he racked up 212 goals and 231 assists in 552 regular-season contests with Syracuse, Milwaukee, Hershey, Worcester, Norfolk, Portland and Hamilton. In 2003-04, he helped Milwaukee win the Calder Cup league championship.

In 130 NHL games (prior to the 2010-2011 season), the 33-year-old St. Laurent native scored 13 goals and 21 assists playing with Columbus, Nashville, San Jose, Tampa Bay and Montreal. A standout player with the Redmen back in his university days, Darche earned the Forbes Trophy as McGill’s male athlete of the year in 2000.

As he nears his mid-thirties, Darche knows that his playing career will inevitably come to an end. But he is hoping to remain in the world of hockey and he thinks his McGill management degree might prove to be a valuable asset in that pursuit.

“I’d love to stay in hockey,” says Darche. “I’d love to be on the management side of it.” As NHL teams cope with the new challenges posed by the league’s cap on player’s salaries, it’s more important than ever for general managers to make careful decisions as they put together their teams.

“It’s not just about picking good players [anymore], you have to plan five years ahead.”

Martin Raymond, BEd’90, MA’96: Tampa Bay’s eye in the sky

Guy Boucher and Martin Raymond at a Tampa Bay Lightning practice (Photo by Steven Kovich)

With an overall record of 293 wins,192 losses and 35 ties, Martin Raymond is the most successful coach in McGill Redmen hockey history. Now he has taken his winning ways to Florida as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he hopes to help the onetime Stanley Cup champion rebound from the losing records and organizational disarray of recent seasons.

Raymond finds himself once again collaborating with long-time friend Guy Boucher, the Lightning’s new head coach. Raymond also served as one of Boucher’s assistants last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.

While Boucher and Raymond earned plenty of attention for their work in Hamilton – the team had a sterling 52-17-11 record – Raymond says it was nothing like the scrutiny the pair now face at the NHL level. “Obviously you’re more under the microscope,” says Raymond. “It kind of changes everybody’s perception a little bit too. All of a sudden people look at you a different way, speak to you a different way. It’s something to get accustomed to. I’m not used to that.”

In his work with the Lightning, Raymond helps organize the team’s power play, working with the second unit. He also typically watches the first two periods of every game from the press box, away from the frenetic activity on his team’s bench. “When you’re watching the game from upstairs, sometimes you get a different view of things. You get a different feel for what [the other team] is throwing at us.”

All told, Raymond was a member of the McGill Redmen for 22 seasons, as a player from 1987 to 1992, as an assistant coach for three years, and then as head coach for 14 more (1996-2009). A team captain and an All-Canadian in his final year as a Redmen player, Raymond ranks third in Redmen team history for most career goals (109) and career points (253). He received the Forbes Trophy in 1992, and the Bobby Bell Trophy as Redmen MVP in 1991-92.

Raymond says he hasn’t really changed his approach to coaching since shifting from the university level to the professional ranks. But the nature of his job has changed dramatically. Ironically, he finds he now has more opportunities for teaching than he did when he was coaching university players.

“One thing that has really changed is the amount of time I get to spend with players. There is more time to go over videos together. We have longer meetings. At practices, there is more time to work on specific skills. At the college level, you can’t ask your players to spend five or six hours at the arena.”

Jamie Kompon, BEd’89: The sum of his influences

Jamie Kompon behind the bench for the Los Angeles Kings

As the assistant coach of the Los Angeles Kings, much of Jamie Kompon’s job revolves around refining his team’s power play, which ranked among the best in the league last year under his tutelage. Kompon’s approach is pretty straightforward. “What you want are shots. If you get your shots, it creates scoring chances.”

That’s less obvious than it sounds. “You might expect that a typical power play generates four shots on goal, but actually, it usually only results in about two.” Kompon did his homework on this, analyzing not only his own team’s power play efforts, but other teams’ as well. He suspects that a lot of players spend too much time passing the puck around on a power play, waiting for that perfect opportunity for “a highlight reel goal.

“The best power plays are shooting power plays,” insists Kompon.

Kompon joined the Kings in 2006. Before that he spent nine years with the St. Louis Blues, where he served as the team’s video coach and then as its strength and conditioning coach. Like fellow McGill grads Mike Babcock, Guy Boucher and Martin Raymond, Kompon coached at the university level before reaching the NHL. He served as the co-head coach of the Redmen in 1994-95. He is happy to see coaches with university backgrounds getting the chance to work in the NHL.

“I think a lot of it is, and I applaud the NHL general managers for this, you’re not seeing the same recycled coaches now the way you used to. Not everybody gets six or seven kicks at the can anymore. They are starting to trend towards new ideas, and that means new people.”

When Kompon played defence for the Redmen in the late eighties, Ken Tyler was McGill’s coach. “Ken Tyler was definitely a big influence on me. Ken made sure our intensity level and our battle level and our compete level was always at its highest.

“I learned something from all of [my coaches]. That’s what makes us unique. We steal a little bit here and a little bit there from the coaches we’ve had along the way. Then you get your own personality and add that to the mix.”

Claude Loiselle, LLB’98: Following his dreams

Claude Loiselle back in his playing days with the Toronto Maple Leafs

When Claude Loiselle hung up his skates after retiring as a NHL player in 1994, he did something unusual in the hockey world. He went to law school.

“My goal was to come back into hockey with a law degree from the most reputable school. The thing about McGill was that I was focused 100 per cent on my studies. And I absolutely loved it.”

While there is no shortage of dreamy-eyed youngsters yearning for a shot at playing in the NHL, Loiselle says he always had two distinct dreams when he was growing up. “I always tell people that I’m so fortunate because when I was a kid I always wanted to do both, become an NHL player and a lawyer.”

Loiselle began his journey toward law school in the early nineties, taking undergraduate courses while still playing for the New York Islanders. He played 616 games over the course of his 13-year NHL career, scoring 209 points and picking up a reputation as a hard-nosed defensive forward, earning 1,146 penalty minutes during tours of duty with the Detroit Red Wings, the New Jersey Devils, the Quebec Nordiques, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Islanders.

While pursuing his law degree at McGill, Loiselle did an internship with the NHL. He must have made a good impression – he ended up working as the league’s associate director of hockey operations for seven years after graduating in 1998.

The Ottawa native left the league offices in 2005 to take on the position of assistant general manager with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he stayed until 2008. He joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as its new assistant general manager last spring.

Loiselle’s children are following in his footsteps. His 16-year-old son, Bron, was selected by Loiselle’s old junior team, the Windsor Spitfires, in the Ontario Hockey League’s 2010 draft, while his daughter is now a third-year arts student at McGill.

Loiselle says dreams can come true. “You always think about the power of visualization and that kind of stuff, and it happened [for me]. So now I’m visualizing winning a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs!”

With files from Daniel McCabe, BA’89, and Earl Zukerman, BA’80, communications officer for Athletics & Recreation, McGill.