A teacher by trade before he got into full-time coaching, Jason McKee is ready to put those skills to use as he takes over the reins of the Vancouver Giants.
McKee taught at a hockey academy in Edmonton for players aged 13 to 17 before getting behind the bench with the junior A Spruce Grove Saints. And after four years as as assistant coach and six years as the head coach and general manager with the Saints, McKee has been tabbed head coach of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants.
He was announced as the seventh head coach in the major junior hockey club’s history on Wednesday and the team held a press conference on Thursday morning to introduce the 37-year-old.
“I believe you have to take the time to teach and you are going to have to teach in a lot of different ways,” he said.
“I feel like I do a good job of communicating with players and most importantly, teaching players to play the game a certain way.”
The Giants named Glen Hanlon general manager back on May 19 and McKee said he had two interviews for the job, the first of which came about three weeks ago.
Hanlon said that McKee’s enthusiasm, exuberance, passion and winning tradition are a welcome addition to the Giants.
McKee leaves the Saints program after six consecutive division titles, an overall regular season record of 275-64-21 and an average of 97.5 points per season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
In the past four seasons, they have won two AJHL league titles (2014 and 2015) and lost in the finals the other two years (2013 and 2016).
He was twice named the AJHL coach of the year (2013/14 and 2014/15) and the Canadian Junior Hockey League coach of the year in 2013/14.
“This was an opportunity to come to a bigger market in the Western Hockey League,” he said about the decision to leave Spruce Grove.
“I wanted to go somewhere where there is some continuity and I think there are some great pieces in place.
“We just have to grow as a team.”
McKee played one season in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds, scoring 23 goals and 62 points in 69 games.
He played professionally briefly in the ECHL, spending 50 games with the Richmond Renegades, Baton Rouge Kingfish and Birmingham Bulls, before retiring.
This past season saw Vancouver struggle on the ice, especially with a mass amount of injuries.
McKee is also the team’s fourth head coach since the start of the 2014 season.
As for what fans can expect as the team hits the ice for their first season at the Langley Events Centre, McKee said the team will be one which plays with pace and players will have the ability to be creative when the time is right.
“The way the game is played right now, you have to play with pace,” he said. “It will be an uptempo pace for sure.”
“We want to be moving up the ice together and trying to put a lot of pressure on the opposition and try and make them make more mistakes than us,” he added.
“I really believe the game comes down to that: the team that makes the less mistakes usually has the best chance to win.”
McKee said when he joined the Saints as an assistant coach in 2007 — under current Edmonton Oil Kings coach Steve Hamilton — the team was in a decent spot.
“But I think we put our mark on how we wanted to play. We had a vision of how we wanted to play and treat each other,” he said. “I was part of that and I think those were lessons I learned at an early age.
“I am definitely going to carry that over.”
Coming from a winning pedigree should help McKee establish credibility in the dressing room.
“The biggest thing is it shows what you are doing is working,” he said. “I don’t need to come in and be someone I am not.”
McKee will relocate to the Lower Mainland with his wife Carey-Ann and two young daughters, Brianna and Brynn, sometime next month.