By Lorie McClory
Rob Morgan has been involved in hockey his entire life, not surprising to those of us who think “Canadian” is synonymous with “hockey player.”
“My love for hockey and desire to coach came from my youth hockey coaches in Medicine Hat, Alberta, where I played hockey at the highest levels from Squirts through to Midgets and was blessed to have such great coaches who instilled a love for the game, developed our skills and taught us to be great teammates.”
Beyond minor hockey, Rob’s career as a player was “filled with adversity.” He left home at 17 to play for the Abbotsford Falcons in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. In his first game, a teammate received a fatal injury on the ice, and Rob and other younger players were traded to give them “a fresh start” following the tragedy. After a couple more trades, and some untold stories, Rob returned home to Medicine Hat to begin his college hockey career.
“The only good thing about my college days was I met the love of my life in Rhonda,” with whom Rob has two children, Braden and Brooke.
Rob says he “fell into coaching women” in 2000 while on sabbatical to complete a one-year residency at the University of Lethbridge to satisfy his Master of Education requirements. The Pronghorns had just elevated its team to varsity status to compete in the Canada West of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport, but lost their coach just a few weeks before their season was to begin. “The short version of this story is that the convenience of me being on campus opened the door to an opportunity that would later prove to be a great experience and career that I’m very proud of.”
And what a year it was: the Pronghorns finished with a winning record, made the playoffs, and Rob was awarded Canada West Coach of the Year.
Following his inaugural year as a head coach, Rob and the family moved to Saranac Lake, NY, where he worked as head coach for women’s hockey and athletics director at North Country Community College. One year later, Dartmouth College hired Rob as an assistant coach (later promoted to associate head coach) of the women’s hockey program, prompting the family to come to live in Eastman. “It was the best move for my family ever,” he said.
Rob describes his six years with Dartmouth as “an amazing experience,” but he wanted to be a head coach again and, coincidentally, St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, wanted to start a women’s hockey program. Rob spent a “building year” traveling and recruiting players for the new Green Knights team. The first season’s roster was made up completely of freshmen, but the team still finished with a winning record. In year three, his team won the conference and went to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III national championships. “We had a lot of success there,” he said.
Rob’s success was noticed by Yale University, which in 2015 was looking for an associate head coach. “It was a great opportunity to come back East. We tell our kids to follow their passions and chase their dreams, and this was an opportunity for me to do that.”
According to the Yale website, the team had a five-game winning streak and three players earned All-Ivy League recognition in Rob’s first season with the Bulldogs.
To keep pace as a coach, Rob attends the Annual American Hockey Coaches Association Convention, held annually at the end of the NCAA national tournament. “When you’re an educator, you’re always learning. The game continues to evolve, there are new ways of teaching. … We’re never satisfied as we try to encourage players. We’re trying to get better each day as coaches… As soon as you think you have it all figured out, it’s time to step away.”
Part of learning is doing new things. Enter Hockey Canada, which each year recruits coaches to work with its summer camp programs. Last summer Rob applied for and was offered a post working with the National Women’s Development Team. “I jumped on it right away,” he said.
Always modest, Rob said that while the role of a camp coach is an important part of the process, the heavy lifting is done by the general manager, head coach, regional scouts, and Hockey Canada staff who handle all the camp’s logistics. The camp coach’s job is to “put the players through their paces” during practices and a series of games so the head coach and scouts can identify the best of the best. “It’s a very, very rigorous and demanding camp. (The players are) tested physically, mentally and emotionally. At the end of the day, they’re looking for the best who can perform and perform under pressure.”
But the coaches are also under pressure. “You do feel some pressure because you’re being evaluated the whole time. Especially if you want to be a coach for the national team, you have to bring your best and have to create an environment so your athletes can perform at their best. It’s always an honor to be part of the national team, having an opportunity to be with the best players in Canada and the best coaches in the nation, the sharing that goes on. That’s very special. It was a great experience for sure.”
Rob said the difference between coaching at that level and coaching at the college level is that a college player might have a weakness on which she has to focus, such as skating speed, shooting, or passing, whereas all the players at the development camp can skate fast, have good sticks skills, understand the game, and make plays. The camp reveals who can make plays under the greatest demands, while playing in front of 20,000 spectators, and with the expectations of helping Hockey Canada to win a gold medal.
Rob says college athletes are impressive in a different way. “I’m amazed at the time they put in as college athletes,” he said, citing their training, practice, and academic schedules, the time they spend on other extracurricular activities, and their time management skills. “It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to work with these athletes on a daily basis.”
The Bulldogs 30-game regular season began on Oct. 15 and ends on Feb. 18 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, but the game schedule is only part of the job. Being only three hours “door to door” to Yale allows Rob to be on campus when he needs to be and at home when he can be. “There are other people in our situation. It’s a nice compromise for sure.” During the college recruiting moratorium in May, Rob will be at Eastman “recharging my batteries.”
“We love it there. When it’s not hockey season, we spend a lot of time at our home in Eastman. That’s where we raised our kids. It will always be home for us. That’s where we see ourselves later in life, retiring.”