McAmmond switches gears

Learned the art of faceoffs from Dean McAmmond the other night at Civic Arena. Also suffered a minor concussion losing a faceoff to Sandy Moger.

It’s all part of the ongoing minor hockey coaching process. About 20 of us coaches joined the two former NHLers in a scrimmage after the seminar.

McAmmond still skates a zillion miles an hour and makes tape-to-tape passes well, like he could still be playing. Turns out he wishes he was, with his NHL games played stat stuck at 996.

While the father of four doesn’t miss changing zip codes after playing for eight teams, at 38, he hasn’t filed retirement papers. He’s staying in decent shape coaching his son, Braeden, in Senior Atom Development hockey.

“I still feel like I wanna be a player more than a coach,” said the amiable McAmmond. “But, I feel like right now if I can help other kids and my son, and be a part of that, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be at all the games anyways. I wish I was still playing, but it just gets harder and harder as we keep moving here and there.”

He’s somewhat disappointed he never got the chance to reach 1,000 games, as his former Ottawa teammate Chris Phillips did the other night. He was 30 when the 2004 lockout occured and saw him rack up 61 points with the AHL Albany River Rats.

The league got younger and faster post lockout, no problem for the smooth-skating McAmmond, whose best year was 2001-02 when he compiled 21 goals and 50 points alongside Jarome Iginla and Craig Conroy in Calgary. He has 186 goals and 448 points.

And like Owen Nolan, who officially retired in San Jose the other day, urging young players to soak in the moment because it soars by, McAmmond can recall plays like they happened an hour ago.

“It was fast. When I think back now, it’s a little bit sad for me because it’s behind me. On every team and every city, you meet good people. For my instance, you go from one city, to one city, to the next and next, and there’s a lot of friends that you meet along the way that you really don’t keep in touch with.

“But, on the flip side, I played some good hockey. I’ve been to the Stanley Cup finals three times and played on some really good lines, some really good teams, and played some really good hockey. I won a gold medal in the world juniors (in Sweden) and a silver in the world championships (in Austria) and things like that.”

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound centre hails from Grand Cache, a town of 3,700 in west-central Alberta, famous for Dean and his older brother Ian (three years in the WHL), and the Canadian Death Race. His dad, a plumber, couldn’t skate and didn’t know hockey so never coached his sons.

Dean is finding the task both challenging and rewarding as he coaches the H&L Glass Wolfpack.

“It’s nice to be with him (Braeden), watching him play, kind of being at the beginning stage of whatever lies ahead for him.

“He’s still trying to find his stride. He’s come a little ways this season already. He’s kind of just a fun-loving kid so sometimes I’ve gotta bark at him to compete.”

Moger, along with Dave Brown, Brent Fairweather, Jonathan Miller and Derek King, are assistant coaches/fathers who McAmmond leans on.

McAmmond says he never went to school to be a teacher so it’s a constant learning curve as he strives for a balance between expectations and reality. He tries to fix what he feels comfortable fixing and manages the kids as best he can.

“You can’t just yell at them because they have accountability to pick it up for their linemate. These are kids who are here for fun so I’ve been trying to walk a balance.”

Moger, director operations for minor hockey, asked McAmmond last summer to apply for a coaching job.

“He’s a quiet guy off the ice, but he’s intense as a coach,” said Moger. “He coaches like he plays. He doesn’t settle for 50 per cent, and players realize 50 per cent isn’t going to get them anywhere. He’s making our kids better hockey players.”

Moger, a Canuck draft who played 236 games in the show, played against McAmmond but rarely got close to him.

“He just works hard. He never takes a shift off and he’s very fast and very hard to keep up to,” laughed Moger.

Asked about some of the special players he lined up with and against, McAmmond offered: “They’re all a little bit different. It’s like (choosing) between Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. One’s just that much bigger and stronger. They’re the elite of the elite and it’s because they physically have it, and they mentally have it, and they compete every night, and they’re driven.

“They have everything. You’ve got (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Henrik) Zetterberg, guys like Daniel Alfredsson, who’s just a mainstay in Ottawa, He just put the points up over and over and led us to a Stanley Cup (final) when I was there. I played with guys like Doug Weight, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin. And when I was a kid, I played with (Jeremy) Roenick and (Steve) Larmer and Michel Goulet and guys like Dirk Graham, in my first year (in Chicago) I’m like, ‘John Tonelli just set up my first goal in training camp’ which was pretty neat growing up as an Islander fan.”

McAmmond led the WHL with 16 playoff goals in 17 games as the Swift Current Broncos stopped the Portland Winter Hawks for the ‘93 title. He was a first-round draft, 22nd choice, by Chicago Blackhawks in the ‘91 amateur lottery, seven picks behind Markus Naslund and one ahead of Ray Whitney.

He has lost the puck, but can provide a graphic play-by-play of his first NHL goal, with the Edmonton Oilers, where he spent 300 games.

“My first goal came in Winnipeg, in front of the big picture of the Queen (old Winnipeg Arena). Bobby Essensa was the goalie. It was kind of a broken play. We turned it over at the blueline and I was coming out of the zone late. I think it was Zdeno Ciger who got it to me and I just kind of turned to take a shot and I don’t know if it got tipped or fanned. It kind of bounced in a funny circle and Bobby Essensa was trying to pat it down and he just couldn’t catch up with it and it found the net.”


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