TJ Milar adds some different ingredients behind the Pontiacs bench.
The biggest? Youth.
“One thing I’m saying right now is I’m going to add some youthful enthusiasm to the team,” said Millar.
“I am a younger coach, especially in the junior ranks. But I think what I bring to the table is a bit of an ability to connect with the players on a different level. Maybe find a different way to get more out of them from the sense, ‘Hey, I’ve been there, and I was there not that long ago.’”
The newest member of the Pontiacs coaching staff earned a sports management degree from the Sports Institute of Finland, which allowed him to coach Junior A in Finland and work with elite talent.
“My program was very unique. It was a very hands-on approach to the game, and personal development. The program itself was sponsored by the IIHF and you spent a lot of time working with the member national organization. For example, in my two years I got to work with the Czech Republic as well as the French, and one of the key things I was able to do was work with the Finnish National team.
“I got to work with some pretty special players. I had Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers and Patrick Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, so I had the ability to see how they coach the game, how they approach the game – everything,” said Millar.
The Finnish system puts the emphasis on the athlete first. It’s a sign that the hockey world is changing in light of extremely talented teenagers.
“They’ve integrated the game now over there where they question the athletes, ‘What do you want to do as a player, and why do you want to do it?’ You can see it right now. They’re starting to become dominant on the international stage and they’re integrating the players. That’s the way the game’s going with technology and things you see online.”
When Millar returned from Europe, he worked as the video coach for the Tri-City Americans. Then it was to Nipawin of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League as an assistant coach, where they won a championship last season.
“He’s been in situations as a young guy that some people never face in their life, and those experiences he adds right away,” said Coach and GM, Rick Swan.
“He’s an efficient, detailed, young coach. There’s not enough time in the day for the information he wants to learn, and I think that youth and enthusiasm he brings will be contagious to our players.”
A major emphasis for Millar and the entire staff is to build the right culture.
“Culture is everything. The last few years I had in Nipawin, I was very fortunate to be part of a team where everyone was treated like brothers, and like family. I think that’s one of the things we’re stressing,” said Millar.
There will more time spent together this training camp heading to and from Frog Lake.
“What a great way to kinda get situated as a team and as a family in Frog Lake. We got lots of time on the bus where we can socialize and get to know everybody. That added transportation will make everything a little more interesting, and I think it will give us more hype and excitement for the Town of Bonnyville when we finally get into the RJ.”
Millar’s primary task during the season will be working with the defence, “making sure we’re getting the proper skill development.”
In December, he’ll take the reins from Rick Swan when he leaves to coach Team Canada West. Until then, he’s excited to see everybody get to work in camp.
“I’ve heard incredible things from everybody and I’ve been blown away with the guys I’ve met so far. We’ve got guys in town here now, so I can’t wait to see it translate to the ice. It’s going to be an exciting season, and I’m chomping at the bit to get going.”