COBOURG – John Druce was introduced Friday afternoon as the new head coach of the Cobourg Cougars.
Druce, who is a Petes alumni, is from Peterborough and played 10 seasons in the NHL, takes over a Cougars team that is gearing up to host the RBC Cup national junior A hockey championship next May at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season.
This is Druce’s first head coaching job, but he’s not unfamiliar with the Cougars. He joined the Ontario Junior Hockey League club on a part-time basis as an assistant coach last season after Curtis Hodgins accepted the head coaching position with the UOIT Ridgebacks at the Canadian university hockey level.
“Just being here for the short time that I was available for the team last season I really got a good feel for the organization,” Druce said in an interview.
Druce, 50, said he’s known Cougars GM Brent Tully, who is 42 and also from Peterborough, a long time. In fact, despite an eight-year age gap, the two played one season of professional hockey together in Germany with the Hannover Scorpions during the 1998-1999 season.
They are looking forward to working together with the goal of winning the national championship.
“For me personally, if you talk strictly with the goal of knowing the RBC Cup is the end goal and the championship is where we want to be and we want to win that championship, it’s a point of knowing what we need to do to get there from Day 1 on a daily basis – make sure the players know their roles, make sure they know what’s expected of them from me and then for me to implement the systems that I feel necessary for the type of team that we’re going to ice,” Druce said.
When deciding who would be the next head coach of the Cobourg Cougars,Tully said he had to go with his gut feeling. That was the advice given to him by his mentors in hockey.
That gut feeling kept bringing him back to one candidate – Druce.
“I just feel really comfortable with the fact that he has the passion and the fire within to win,” Tully said. “The little bit of time he spent with us last year was a real good glimpse for me to see how he treats the kids and I know that respect is the biggest thing because you’re going to get the most out of your kids if there’s a mutual respect there.”
Druce, who played for the Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers, will take his experience gained in hockey to his new role as a head coach. He played 531 NHL regular season games and 53 playoff games. During the 1989-1990 playoffs, he stands out for having scored 14 goals in 15 games for the Capitals.
“It’s just a matter of getting to know the players, get to know what systems I want to put in place and execute in those on a daily basis game in and game out. As a player I was never the superstar and I think because of that you play close attention to the details of the game and I’ve had some amazing coaches,” Druce said, specifically naming Terry Murray, who coached him in Philadelphia.
“I’ve never been so prepared to know what our system was, what my expectation was and where I was supposed to be on the ice at certain times and in different situations. Not only myself, but every player on the ice. I think that brings a lot to me for how I’m going to apply that with this team.”
One of his roommates, for two years with Washington, was Dale Hunter – who has had a successful coaching career with the London Knights of the OHL – Druce noted.
“He’s going to be a great resource for me as well,” Druce said. “The conversations we would have on a daily basis, you learn a lot and you learn a lot about what makes winners, the commitment that it takes and I think those are huge assets to bring to the table.”
The 2016-2017 season will be a long one for the Cougars and Druce said players will need commitment themselves in terms of diet, training and sleep as well as to the team.
“When you show up at the rink every day, you have to be prepared to work, you have to be focused, you have to know how to motivate each other as well as yourself,” he said.
Tully doesn’t see Druce’s lack of head coaching experience as an issue and said a coach with lots of experience doesn’t necessarily make them the right fit for a team.
“I think that John is the type of person, even with his experience and resume (as a player), he doesn’t have an ego that is going to prevent him from learning and leaning on what will be a very strong bench staff as well,” Tully said.
The rest of the staff is still being finalized, but should be announced soon as will player acquisitions and signings.
One new player to the lineup, as previously reported, is Cobourg’s Josh Maguire who is returning to play for his hometown Cougars after four seasons with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
Maguire said Druce would help coach games for the Petes during training camp.
“I got to know him pretty well over my four years there,” Maguire said. “He’s a great person, a great coach who knows a lot about the game. It helps when you have a resume like he does to back it up and it just gives you much respect for a guy like that.”
Maguire is looking forward to finishing his junior hockey career with the Cougars.
“I have a lot of strong family ties to this organization,” he said, referring to his great-grandfather Bill Maguire, a longtime Cougars volunteer who passed away in March; his late grandfather Bryan Rose, a former coach; and his dad Chris Maguire, an alumni member as a former player. “I thought it would only be fitting for me to end my junior career as a Cobourg Cougar.”
Hosting the RBC Cup is an added bonus, he said.
“I would love nothing more than holding a cup up in front of my hometown, to a town that I think is very deserving,” Maguire said.