WINNIPEG, MB. - For the longest time, Kevin Monkman never gave any thought to becoming a hockey coach.
He grew up in Vogar, Man., a hamlet about 158 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg within the rural municipality of Siglunes at the north end of Lake Manitoba. It isn’t nowhere, but you can actually see nowhere from the historic Vogar cemetery.
Like most kids from tiny towns in the northern part of the Interlake, Monkman played minor hockey in Ashern, went on to play midget with the Parkland Rangers and then played junior with the Dauphin Kings and Portage Terriers.
He was an assistant coach in 2001 and 2002 with the old Southeast Blades (now the Steinbach Pistons) of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but after a couple of seasons, he started a family and eventually went to work at Manitoba Hydro. He was thinking about a lot of things, but coaching wasn’t one of them.
“Yeah, I started playing hockey when I was four-years-old in Vogar,” he said. “Just started on an outdoor rink and then played by first minor hockey in Ashern. Then I played at Peguis for a good part of my teenaged years and then I moved to Dauphin to play Triple A with Parkland Rangers and then from there went to play junior with the Dauphin Kings and Portage Terriers.
“We won a championship in 1992-93 in Dauphin. That was a good experience and I learned a lot, but after that, I went to work, started a family and was out of hockey for a while.”
After being out of the game for almost 10 years, he got back into the game with Bruce Schmidt and Dan Bourbonnais as an assistant coach with the Blades, but by then, Family came first.
“From there I took a hiatus from hockey,” he said. “I didn’t get back into the game until 2012 when I ran into (Provincial Aboriginal Women’s coach and the head coach of the MWJHL’s Prairie Blaze) Dale Bear at the Red River Ex. I coached Dale with the Southeast Blades and we started to talk and he asked me if I’d be interested in coaching the Manitoba Provincial men’s aboriginal team that goes to the NAHC (National Aboriginal Hockey Championship) every year. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll look into it.’
Good thing he did. He not not only went after the job, but since 2013, he’s built one of the most impressive teams at the NAHC. Last spring, he guided Manitoba to its second gold medal in NAHC history. He’s now won bronze and gold, back-to-back.
However, last year’s gold was a bit of a 2017 double-whammy. While he was coaching Team Manitoba back in 2016, a few of the players on that team played for the Peguis Juniors. The Juniors were looking for a coach and one day, almost out of the blue, he got a call from Bruce Sinclair, the GM in Peguis.
“They asked me if I’d be interested in coaching and I said I didn’t think I’d have time and wasn’t interested,” he admitted. “Then they called me the next day and then they called me the next day and I finally said, ‘OK, let’s meet.’ So I drove out to Peguis to meet with them and we tossed back a few ideas. One of the ideas I had was an idea I didn’t think they’d go for, but to my surprise they decided to go for it and in the end, we went on and won the championship.”
A divorced father of three, Kevin is raising three kids by himself. He’s been working at Manitoba Hydro for 12 years and does his coaching on the side. That is, he coaches when he finds the time between his responsibilities at work and his responsibilities to three active youngsters.
“My son, Kevin Jr., is nine and he’s a player,” said Kevin with a laugh. “My oldest daughter played ringette and my youngest daughter played ringette and hockey. We’re always busy.”
If you spend any time with Monkman, the first thing you’ll pick up on is the fact he’s quiet and forthright. Those are character traits that make up his approach to coaching.
“My philosophy is pretty simple when it comes to my players – work hard, be committed and compete every night,” he said. “I’m a pretty calm coach. Maybe in my younger years I was a bit of a yeller, but I don’t yell much anymore. I’m pretty laid back.”
Yep. Laid back and very, very successful.
Scott Taylor for The Manitoba Post
Photos by James Carey Lauder
(This story originally appeared in the November issue of Game On, Manitoba’s Hockey Magazine)