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Saint John Sea Dogs look to New Brunswick coaching legend at Memorial Cup

When the Saint John Saints were looking for a new direction after being knocked out of the first round of the QMJHL playoffs as host of the 2022 Memorial Cup, they turned to MacDougall for help.

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SAINT JOHN, NB — Gardiner MacDougall is an outstanding hockey educator and coach, and he became a legend in this province through his work at the University of New Brunswick.

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So when the Saint John Sea Dogs were looking for a new voice after being eliminated in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs as host of the 2022 Memorial Cup, they turned to MacDougall for help.

The Bedeque, PEI product jumped at the chance to guide the Sea Dogs through the major junior national tournament before returning to his program at UNB. Saint John opened the four-team tournament on Monday with a 5-3 win over the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs.

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“Hockey players are hockey players, they want to improve,” MacDougall said before facing the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 2 on Wednesday. “They are competitive, they like challenges. So even if you have a group of seven or eight year olds, they want to improve, they are enthusiastic and want to be challenged to improve.

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“The transition was quick, obviously, but they were very responsive. For me, it’s all about habits and you just change certain habits. There is a habit book that says it takes 21 days to change, another book maybe 40 days and another book maybe 65 days. I hope 40 Days or Less is the right book. It was a good start for our guys. »

The Sea Dogs had 38 days between games from when they were eliminated on May 12 until the tournament opener. MacDougall, along with former NHL heavyweight Rocky Thompson, were brought in to help players prepare for the tournament without the benefit of a long playoff streak, which was the case with the other three teams in the tournament. event.

“You don’t really know where this is going to take you; it’s no different than going to the college hockey nationals,” MacDougall said. “At university, you know your team; you have seven or eight months with them and you have 100 training and playing 40 games, so you have a pretty good idea of ​​where they are.

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“Here we had 20 practices and five scrums, so I saw them 25 times. We know we’re getting better, but you don’t know how much. You watch Hamilton on TV and they’re an exceptional team, but we were lucky. They played Game 7 of the OHL Finals in front of 11,000 people and it was a quick turnaround for them. It will be a good club before the end of this tournament.

MacDougall was in charge of the men’s hockey program at UNB for 22 seasons, winning seven national titles along the way. UNB and the University of Alberta in Edmonton are considered the two best university programs in the country.

MacDougall, 62, began his coaching career in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with the Flin Flon Bombers. He then moved to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League before taking over the hockey program at UNB in ​​2000.

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“When I came to UNB, I was the fourth coach in five years,” MacDougall said. “They were all good coaches; the other four went to the NHL at one point or another, and we had a good team.

“To build a winning program, we need to have continuity with your coaching staff, your organization, your athletic director. So we had a chance to hang out and I have an amazing staff. Rob Hennigar is my associate coach, who played four years for us and signed an NHL contract with the New York Islanders. He was the best player in the country when he left and he’s been back for eight years with me and we’re lucky to have full-time staff helping us do what we want.

Hennigar takes care of the store while MacDougall is away with the Sea Dogs. Saint John has a talented team, which was evident in their first win against Hamilton.

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Heading into the tournament, however, there was a lot of uncertainty over whether the Sea Dogs could face the three different CHL league champions.

It only took one match to demonstrate their belonging.

“We haven’t done anything yet and we all have a lot to prove,” MacDougall said. “It was my first game as a coach and all of our players have a lot to prove. It’s a stage, no doubt, but we’re up against some very good teams.

“We follow this mantra that it’s progressive, but we have to improve a little bit every day. We have to be the team that has improved the most every night we play.

The long layoff allowed the Sea Dogs to regain their health and enter the tournament well rested. They’re also backed by a boisterous hometown crowd, which packs the Harbor Station area, which seats more than 6,600 people.

“We haven’t played the intense number of games that other teams have played, so we have to make up for that with our energy and our work ethic,” MacDougall said. “We don’t have the experience of playing a sixth or seventh game in a playoff series. All we have is us, and we have to bring the energy and the work ethic and see where that takes us.


On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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