By Jim Hynes
The oldest hockey team in the world has a new coach.
Kelly Nobes, a McGill graduate and former Redman player and assistant coach, has been appointed head coach of the men’s hockey team. The 36-year-old native of West Hill, Ont., becomes the 28th coach in team history and the 11th former player to guide the squad. He replaces Jim Webster, who served as interim head coach last year after longtime bench boss Martin Raymond left to take a coaching position in the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Nobes brings nine years of head coaching experience in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). His teams have qualified for post-season play each season. Nobes spent the past four campaigns at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., where he posted an impressive 77-34-1 regular-season mark (.692), guiding the Golden Hawks to the second-highest win total of all 19 teams in the OUA during that span. His first head coaching position was a five-year stint at Royal Military College in Kingston, where he led the Paladins to more career victories (32) and playoff appearances (5) than any other coach in RMC history. He established single-season school records for coaching victories at both institutions and registered CIS-leading win totals in 2006-07 and 2008-09.
“I’m pleased to find a coach of Kelly’s experience, calibre and passion for the game,” said Drew Love, Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation at McGill. “He possesses all the qualities we were looking for. He is very familiar with the recruiting process, has directed a very successful program at Laurier and is well respected by our alumni. It’s a good fit for us to bring back an energetic graduate from our hockey program.”
Nobes played four seasons at McGill, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education (1997) and Master’s in exercise physiology (2001). A speedy centre, he graduated as the ninth-leading scorer in Redmen history, with 181 points, including 64 goals, in 131 career games. His most productive season was in 1995-96, when he tallied 20 goals and 63 points in 37 games.
Prior to his posting at RMC, Nobes played professionally in Spain. After teaching for a year in Toronto, he returned to serve two more years with the Redmen as an assistant coach under Raymond.
Now he’s coming back to the team where it all began.
“It’s a great move for myself and my family, from a personal and professional perspective,” Nobes said of his return to McGill. “I obviously have an affinity for McGill. I have a lot of friends from our hockey alumni group and my wife is from Montreal and her family lives here, so it wasn’t exactly a tough sell from that standpoint. Although I’m leaving a very strong program at Wilfrid Laurier, I know I’m getting a strong team that Marty (Raymond) built and Jim maintained, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The camaraderie he enjoyed with his fellow students and the support of the University alumni top the list of Nobes’s favourite memories of his time at McGill.
“You feel like you really want to go back,” he said. “There is such strength in that McGill hockey tradition. That’s something that sets McGill apart from anywhere else in the country.”
As for his strengths as a coach, Nobes said he has learned the importance of communication from the coaches he has played under, as well as the difference preparation and an attention to detail can make in winning hockey games.
“You have to listen to the student athletes and they have to know you care about them, and then they are going to work for you and be productive,” Nobes said. “I like to think that I prepare my teams well, which can give you that extra edge over your opponent. I’m also attentive to the small parts of the game, like face-off plays and the specialty team stuff that can be really important when you get into big games late in the season. The small things that may not matter so much in October or November can really pay dividends for you come February and March.”
McGill, which iced the world’s first organized hockey team in 1877 and has won 15 Queen’s Cup titles since the Canadian intercollegiate hockey league was formed in 1902, will celebrate its 100th season of Queen’s Cup competition next fall.
With files from Earl Zukerman, McGill Athletics & Recreation.