New city. New name. New coach.
The Fredericton Junior Red Wings of the Maritime Hockey League announced Brian Casey would take the reins as the franchise’s first head coach on May 31. Casey will guide the team in its first season in the New Brunswick capital after playing the last five seasons in St. Stephen, N.B. as the Aces.
The 46-year-old from Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland has an extensive hockey resume, including two years playing in the QMJHL, four at Acadia University, and a pro career in Europe - which included stops in Austria, Slovakia and Denmark, as well as suiting up for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland.
He spent two years as an assistant coach with St. FX University in Antigonish, N.S., winning back to back AUS championships, and a silver medal at nationals. Casey has spent the last two seasons coaching the under-18 boys’ hockey team at King’s-Edgehill School in Windsor, N.S., and planned to stay at the private school for the foreseeable future.
Then his phone rang.
“(Fredericton Junior Red Wings president) Roger Shannon called me,” says Casey. “I planned to come back to King’s-Edgehill. It's a great program, and I'm grateful for the opportunity they gave me, but coaching is my passion, and this was a chance to be a head coach at a higher level. I want to coach full time, and Fredericton is a great fit for me.”
Casey and the rest of the Red Wings staff will be working quickly to get ready for the 2019-2020 MHL season. The annual draft is June 15 in Edmundston, N.B., and Casey acknowledges there's lots of work to be done.
“We have to do an assessment of the players we have, and compile our draft list. It's about doing our homework on the players,” he said. “A lot of this is new to me at the junior level, but I'm very fortunate to have experienced guys like Roger Shannon on staff to help get us on the right path.”
As the Aces, the team showed promise in its five seasons, but failed to become an elite MHL club. The team twice qualified for the MHL playoffs, but were defeated in the opening round both times. Fredericton is already home to perennial AUS powerhouse, the UNB Reds, but Casey says there's still room for the Red Wings to build a winning side and become a big part of the community.
“Fredericton is a great place to live. It offers everything, and players post-high school have quality options in St. Thomas University and UNB. And they'll be playing in a beautiful facility,” he said.
“We want guys here with passion, guys who want to play in Fredericton. Players have to have the optimism that they can play beyond junior hockey. If we have guys who want to be here, and are driven to come in and work hard every day, the wins will follow.”
Casey says his team will need to work hard to connect with the community.
“Junior is a different brand of hockey than university. It's younger, and players have that passion to move onto the next level. We have to get out into the community and work with minor hockey. You can't just sit back and wait for people to come to you.”
The Red Wings will begin play in September in the MHL's Eastlink North Division alongside the Grand Falls Rapids, Edmundston Blizzard, Miramichi Timberwolves, Summerside Western Capitals, and the defending division champion Campbellton Tigers.
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New city. New name. New coach.