The push to the new Western Hockey League season continues as the campaign will begin on January 8, 2021.
Each team will play in their respective divisions.
The Brandon Wheat Kings will compete against the Winnipeg ICE, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Swift Current Broncos, Prince Albert Raiders, and the Moose Jaw Warriors. When the season does begin, there will be a new man as the team’s bench boss, but he isn’t new to the organization.
It was announced earlier in the week that Don MacGillivray has been named the 24th head coach in Wheat Kings’ history.
“It means a lot to me. This is a storied franchise that has a lot of history and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said MacGillivray. “This is something I’ve been working towards for a long time.”
This will be Don’s fifth season on the team’s coaching staff. He spent the previous four years as an assistant coach. The first three years were spent with David Anning. Brandon advanced to the playoffs in two of the first three years.
“I enjoyed my time with David. He taught me a lot and it allowed me the opportunity to get better every day and that’s key,” said MacGillivray. “I firmly believe that if you’re not improving all the time, you’re doing something wrong.”
When David’s contract wasn’t renewed, the search for a new bench boss began. Don was a candidate for the position. However; in the end, Dave Lowry was hired as the new head coach of Brandon. He led the team to a 35 win campaign last year. Lowry has since signed a contract to become an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets.
Don says not getting the job before last season was likely the best thing that had ever happened to him because he had the opportunity to work alongside Lowry.
“I was so grateful for the opportunity. Dave is an incredible person and an unbelievable coach. I can’t thank him enough,” said MacGillivray. “It was like a coaching conference every day with us. I had the chance to pick his brain and improve. At the time perhaps it was a setback, but it was probably the best thing to happen.”
He played 237 games (including playoffs) with the Wheat Kings before he enjoyed professional stints in the American Hockey League, ECHL, and in Denmark, just to name a few. He joined the Wheat Kings coaching staff as an assistant coach last year.
MacGillivray said the process to finalize the coaching staff is still in the works; however, he has confirmed that Derlago will return behind the bench for the upcoming season. Don and Mark became very close last year and the new bench boss is looking forward to working alongside the former Wheat King.
“He has a great personality and it was great to have him on staff last year,” offered MacGillivray. “He also learned a lot from Dave last season and I think he will even step more out of his comfort zone now.
New season, high expectations:
If they weren’t the hottest team to end the season, they were right near the top. Brandon went 18-5-3 in their final 26 games last season. They also had a ten-game winning streak that went from late December to late January.
With a solid group of returnees set to return to Brandon accompanied by a solid cast of prospects and players looking to break out, the feeling in Brandon is very upbeat right now. No one knows how many games will be played or how the upcoming season will work — besides inter-division play being a lock — but one thing is guaranteed, the Wheat Kings are expecting to do big things.
“We’re really happy with where we’re at when it comes to our roster,” ended MacGillivray. “Our objective is to continue trending in the right direction based on last year’s season end.”
Don has also spent time as head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders. In 2008, he was named the Canada West Coach of the Year as a member of the Manitoba Bisons.
During a very successful tenure in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Don was named coach of the year on four occasions (1995, 2005, 2012, and 2013), he won a championship with the Terriers in 2005 and with the Blues in 2014 when he was the team’s head coach and general manager.
He’s won everywhere he has gone and Don will now try to win a league championship back to Brandon.