The Internet is a burgeoning platform full of historical hockey data, statistics, milestones and awards compilations.
Frankly, it’s all great information, but it can make one’s head spin, too. There can also be much, much more than what initially meets the eye.
Type in “Bobby Fox” and the information as a “player” is, admittedly, a little thin.
Then, do a little digging. The file thickens and it’s impressive, outlining a coaching road map that has landed the 40-year-old Fox in a prominent role with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League.
Prior to arriving in Medicine Hat, Fox occupied a pair of roles with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, associate coach and assistant general manager. Along the way he was behind the bench at the Alberta Cup in 2014, 2015 and 2019.
And, there is a gold medal in his possession, courtesy of the 2015 Western Challenge Cup title earned as Team Alberta’s head coach.
In 2019, Fox received Hockey Alberta’s Order of Merit for coaching and development.
Indeed, Fox would appear to have a very good handle on just how to work efficiently with young hockey players.
After two seasons behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Tigers, the organization promoted Fox to the role of Director of Player Personnel on June 22, 2018. Since then, he’s been at or near the helm in each of the last two WHL Bantam Drafts and the last two CHL Import Drafts.
And, like every other WHL team, the Tigers are working to create ways to keep the players and prospects engaged, focused on being ready to hit the ground (errr, ice?) running when the WHL gets the go-ahead.
DUBNetwork spoke with Fox at his home in the Gas City, where we combed through the wreckage of an abbreviated hockey season, pondered what might have been and dug into how the organization is working together through this most unique off-season.
DUBNetwork: Did you play much growing up, any junior or that type of thing?
Bobby Fox: “No, not really. I was a better coach.”
DN: When did you kind of feel that coaching was something you wanted to do?
BF: “I actually got into coaching by accident. My dad was a director with the Calgary Royals, for the Junior B squad. They lost a coach early in the season and were kind of in a pinch – and I was just kind of finishing up playing some senior hockey.
“They needed a guy and my dad asked me if I was interested. I was kind of tired of making the drive out to central Alberta for senior hockey, so I thought I would give it a chance. I wanted to stay in the game. I caught the bug!
“I remember I was thrown into the fire and I really found out how little I knew about the game. You know, you play, and you think you know the behind-the-scenes stuff on the bench. I really had to learn the ropes, for sure.”
DN: How did it come to pass that the opportunity arose with the Tigers?
BF: “While I was coaching in Okotoks, I met Shaun Clouston at a Hockey Alberta seminar he was speaking at. Bob Wilkie, the mental coach with Tigers at the time introduced us and it kind of went from there.
“At the time, I didn’t even know there was an opening with the Tigers. It was sort of spontaneous and in a lot of ways I’m very grateful that it worked out as it has.”
DN: You had a very good hockey team here last season. What kind of vibe do you get from your returning players this off-season, given the uniqueness of how it all ended and the uncertainty about heading into the 2020-2021 season?
BF: “I think our guys want to get going. I think they feel like there is unfinished business.
“I think everybody in the organization thought we could have made a deep run and done something special. So, I think that’s going to carry on. I know there’s a lot of confidence and the guys are working extremely hard right now, to make sure they’re ready whenever we can go.”
DN: How was your preparation for the WHL Bantam Draft affected when hockey just came to a complete stop? So many showcase events were cancelled.
BF: “I think we were really on the ball anyway. We’ve got some really good guys scouting for us, diligent guys, so we had done our homework and we thought we had a pretty good read on the players.”
DN: That long look, over the course of a season, that would seem to be an important responsibility for your scouting staff.
BF: “Sure. I mean, it’s nice to see the players at these showcase events, but it can also be a detriment at the same time.
“We watch these guys all year. You don’t want to base too much on what you see in one weekend. Although, there is an element of performance on demand, too.”
DN: Has it become in some ways a little easier because of the academy tournaments, the way they structure things so you’re getting so many teams into the same area for a weekend. It’s maybe a little less complicated and a little less travel for the scouting stuff?
BF: “Exactly. There’s definitely that.
“We put in a lot of work writing reports, watching video and getting out to live games. There’s a lot going on there. We get a good scope of all Western Canada, the provinces, the branches do a really good job of giving their players exposure.
“Then there’s also the element of figuring out how different leagues compare. If one looks a little bit more competitive, even from province to province. That changes on a yearly basis.
“But having those schools do a really good job putting together their weekend showcases, they work around some of the major bantam tournaments as well, so there’s always something to go to.
“It’s such a small, small community of hockey guys that you’re going to hear about a player and you’re going to make sure that you get to the rink at the same time.”
DN: At the bantam draft, there is a lot of attention paid to first rounders. Can you give us a few thoughts on Reid Andresen?
BF: “I think Reid is going to be a really good player for us. He’s an offensive defenceman who can control the play from the back end. He’s very smooth and mobile, a real puck moving guy with high hockey sense. He’s a little bit undersized at this time, but I think he’s projected to be a good size and I think he’s going to be a really good player for the Medicine Hat Tigers.”
DN: Anyone from the later rounds that, maybe you were surprised you were able to get that late, or someone maybe you were targeting that you thought you could get in a later round?
BF: “You kind of know how you feel, that maybe some guys are under valued or over valued. You know that going in.
“There’s a couple for sure, some guys we got later in the draft that we think are going to be really good players for us. I don’t know if I want to go too deep in it because I think there’s a number of them that all have a great opportunity to be very successful in the future.”
DN: What’s it been like communicating with your prospects about expectations and how they can prepare themselves during this rather unique off-season?
BF: “Well, we usually have a spring orientation camp in early June to bring in our draft picks to intermingle and get everybody to know each other. I think it’s important they get to see the facilities, meet the coaches and the rest of the staff, and just kind of get immersed into our culture. We can really focus on what the expectations are moving forward.
“So we didn’t do that this year. But the coaches have done a really good job getting things set up the online. I think it’s maybe the new normal – Zoom calls!
“Whether it’s to touch on fitness, or even leadership. The expectations. What it’s going to take. Our philosophy is they shouldn’t just want to make the Tigers – we want guys that have big dreams about where they want to go with their hockey careers. So, some of it’s a reality check about how much hard work it’s going to take.
“I think we’ve touched base with not only our current roster guys, but everyone on our 50-man list at some point, face to face on the computer.”
DN: Two guys in particular, Dru Krebs and Cole Sillinger from the 2018 draft. The Tigers kind of hit a home run there. Was that your first draft in your current role?
BF: “Oh, absolutely they did!
“But credit to Carter Sears, who was the head scout at that time. I was still coaching that year.
“We have so many of the same scouts still. My first draft was 2019 when we chose Oasiz Weisblatt in the first round.
DN: Regarding your import skaters, are you going to get Jonathan Brinkman back?
BF: The plan is for Jon to come back and I think it’ll be a big year for him. He got his feet wet last year. I thought he grew his confidence in year one and I expect it to continue.
DN: The Tigers have had terrific goaltending the past couple of years with import Mads Sogaard. And Garin Bjorklund made a great impression as a rookie last season. Evan Fradette is a signed guy, acquired from Portland before the beginning of last season. Who’s coming up behind them? It seems you have some pretty good depth?
BF: “We feel we’ve got good guys pushing.
“There’s Beckett Langkow. In my opinion, he was the best goalie in the AMHL last year. I think he’s going to be ready to push.
“And even a younger guy, Dylan Silverstein who we chose in the fifth round. He made the US national development team. So, you know, we wish him all the best for the next couple of years but we’re hoping that when he’s done his duty with that program, he’ll come to the Tigers.
“We’ve also got James Venne, who we listed. He’ll be the starting goalie for Saskatoon Blazers this year.
“And we feel we got a good steal with Zach Zahara (Airdrie) in the late rounds this year from the 2005 crops.
“I think we’re in decent shape there, but things change. Guys have to keep getting better.
“We can think a guy has a lot of potential, but when he needs to be ready, he needs to be ready.”
DN: It’s been interesting over the years to see guys who are highly-touted, but they just don’t continue to develop. It’s really interesting watching these young guys improve.
BF: “Oh yeah. I’m one of the luckiest guys, to be able to see these guys improve. I really want these guys to succeed.