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Gushue ready to lead Ice Dogs into new era

Jake Gushue is the new head coach and general manager for the Dryden Ice Dogs.
Jake Gushue was promoted to head coach and general manager of the Superior International Junior Hockey League's Dryden Ice Dogs on April 23.

DRYDEN – Over the last few years, the Dryden Ice Dogs have been known for a rough-and-tumble style of hockey.

That approach will be different come next season, according to new head coach and general manager Jake Gushue.

“Our goal is to not be the front runner in penalty minutes or on the suspension board,” Gushue said.

“We want the skilled players who have speed, creativity and hockey awareness, but also have the compete level to back that up. I’m not looking for . . . fighters or any of that, those days are over.

“For our organization, if the puck is in the corner, the players aren’t taking the long route to get there. They are winning the foot races, winning the puck battles, willing to block shots, willing to box guys out in front and willing to get to the front of the net.”

Gushue – who had spent the last two years as the Ice Dogs’ assistant coach and assistant general manager under former bench boss Kurt Walsten – was promoted to head coach and general manager of the Superior International Junior Hockey League club on April 23.

“After I accepted the job, it was kind of like getting back to work,” Gushue said. “You are still on the recruiting trail, hiring a great support staff and then also meeting with returning players, staff and volunteers.

“It’s all about making sure that we’re all on the same page for the direction that the club wants to go moving forward.”

Gushue already has his coaching staff in place for the 2024-25 campaign.

He will be joined by assistant coach and former Ice Dogs player Ben Hackl, returning assistant coach Jason Langlais, and skills coach Kevin Raine, who won Ontario Hockey League and American Hockey League titles during his playing career.

“Having all three of them will make my job a lot easier,” Gushue said. “It makes the experience for the boys a lot better as well with all those great hockey minds around them.

“I can guarantee you that they’ll be developing a lot throughout this season.”

It’s been a quick journey through the coaching ranks for the 27-year-old Maple Ridge, B.C., product.

After two seasons in the SIJHL, which culminated in lifting the Bill Salonen Cup with the Ice Dogs in 2017, Gushue suited up for the Briercrest College Clippers in Caronport, Sask., until he was forced to retire after the 2018-19 season due to a hip injury.

He soon started coaching minor hockey in British Columbia and also established his own hockey development and training business, where he worked with everyone from young players to National Hockey League draft picks and those already in the pro ranks.

Then in 2022, he got the call to return to Dryden.

“For me, it was a no-brainer,” Gushue said. “I loved it in Dryden when I was playing here and my goal right from day one was to be a coach at the Junior A level.

“To come back to a place that I love and was familiar with was perfect. It’s been a great fit.”

Gushue said his style of coaching has evolved since working behind the bench.

“Hockey progresses by the day,” Gushue said. “The game has changed drastically, even from when I was playing, so you have to stay current and adapt.

“That goes from how the game is played to how the kids receive messages. The days of yelling or screaming at kids . . . they don’t reciprocate the message.

“Anything I’m going to ask my players, I’m going to be willing or am doing myself. We ask them to try and be better every day and that starts right from the moment we walk into the rink.”

Gushue is currently working on building his roster for next season.

The Ice Dogs have already signed hometown defenceman Reidar Paquette from the Kenora Thistles under-18 program, landed forward Tyler Caruso from the Sault College Cougars and added veteran Quebec-born forwards Emmanuel Nkombou and Loik Miville.

However, Gushue said the main thing that he and the rest of the organization are excited about is having the opportunity to change the culture and the environment in Dryden.

“Before, there’s just been a focus on winning but now it’s how do we win the right way?” Gushue said.

“You want to be successful on the ice, but if you can show the kids good morals and habits to have where they are hard-working, polite, punctual and respectable . . . they’ll fall more in love with the game of hockey and then you provide them with that opportunity to play past their junior career.

“If you take care of those first three things, the fourth point of trying to win a championship takes care of itself.”