The Athol Murray College of Notre Dame’s hockey programs have long been attractive to highly-sought-after playing talent.
One factor behind that reality is that it has also been a prestigious landing spot for some fantastic, high-calibre coaches.
Enter Phil Roy.
Coming off 13 years as an assistant coach in American college hockey, the 41-year-old Quebec-native was seeking the best opportunity he could in order to move his young family to the nation of his, and his wife’s birth. Responsible for helping to turn Division I Clarkson University into a No. 12 nationally ranked NCAA club, with a deadly No. 4 nationally ranked power play, Roy could easily have gone to a bevy of spots in the ‘Great White North’.
Yet according to Roy, seeking to apply and interview for the Notre Dame Junior ‘A’ job was an easy choice.
“I really think Notre Dame sells itself, with its great culture and history,” Roy says.
“Everyone in Canada knows about it, and those in the know in the United States, know that what has been achieved and developed here over the years has been second to none. My family is really excited for me to take this next step in my career…and for sure it is exciting to get a shot to be a general manager and head coach at this level, and especially at a place like Notre Dame, where opportunities like this don’t come around very often.”
Roy played Junior ‘A’ himself, with the eastern-Ontario-based Cornwall Colts, before spending four successful seasons between 1996 and 2000 at Clarkson University in up-state New York. A talented-though-undersized-for-the-era defenceman, the man from the suburbs north of Montreal toiled in the professional game after graduation, with stops including a stint with the Calgary Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate in Saint John, NB in 2002, and in the English and French national leagues from 2003 and 2005.
His coaching career began after he retired from playing in 2005, when he assisted at Division III Hobart College in Geneva, N.Y. Roy was the head coach at Neumann College DIII for the 2007-08 campaign, before moving up to the Division I level the next year, assisting at Merrimack College for three seasons, and then at his alma mater for seven.
Heavily involved in recruiting for his respective schools over those years, Roy notes that he has plenty of experience with the game in Saskatchewan and at Notre Dame, and has definitely been paying attention to the work that out-going junior bench boss Clint Mylymok did over his four seasons in charge.
“I think Clint did a great job over the last couple of years to develop this program and to add a few pieces,” Roy says, “so I am very happy and optimistic about the season coming up.”
“With the Olympic-sized ice here at Notre Dame, it means that as a coach you have to build a group that can make the best use of the clear home-ice advantage here. We need to make the use of that ice by retaining and bringing in as much speed as we can, and of course we want a little size to be tough to play against anywhere.”
As of the end of July 2018, Roy has already made a number of roster moves, adding talented defenders in Austin Wieler from the Yorkton Terriers, and Charles Martin from the Quebec league’s Saint-Jerome Pantheres. The club lost young forward Ahmed Ally to the Humboldt Broncos dispersal draft, veterans Chaz Smedsrud and Max Salpeter to junior leagues in the United States, Colby Brandt to the Terriers in the Wieler deal, and experienced blueliner Riley Perka to the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
But in spite of those subtractions, Roy is confident that the club is rapidly heading in the right direction ahead of the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League campaign.
“We have been trying to find the right pieces that fit culture and identity first,” he says, estimating that about 10 unique roster moves are already in the pipeline, “so it has been an exciting time already.”
“Obviously, there are going to be a few changes, but everyone I have to talked to on the team is excited to come back. Essentially my main goal, along with (assistant coach) Chris Robertson and the whole staff, is to get our guys ready for the next level in American college or Canadian university hockey. With the background and contacts that I have, we are going to be able to get our guys in front of some good coaches to give them that opportunity to impress, and move on.”
Hired by ND in mid-June, Phil will have until Sept. 15 – when the Hounds drop the puck on the 2018-19 season in Melfort against the always-talented Mustangs – to move his family from New York State to Saskatchewan, and assemble a group of Hounds that reflect his vision.
Roy’s response is clearly: ‘challenge accepted’.
“My wife and I are both really excited to get back to Canada and give our kids the opportunity to grow up here,” he says.
“More specifically, we know Saskatchewan is really a great province, and we especially feel very happy, and blessed to be part of the Notre Dame community.”