By Dave Leaderhouse
Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a series of features on the 12 head coaches in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League that will run every Friday throughout the summer. The intent is to familiarize the fans with those who are in charge of the various clubs as there has been a significant turnover in the last couple of seasons. Often ready to take a backseat to the players, as those are the ones who deserve to be in the spotlight, the coaches and general managers shoulder the responsibility for putting the product on the ice and rightfully deserve credit for making the SJHL one of the premiere Junior “A” leagues in the country.
Chris Lewgood is proof that having a passion for something can take you a long way.
Throw in a good dose of willingness to learn and you have a recipe for success, something that Lewgood has had as a hockey coach, first with the Prairie Junior Hockey League’s Pilot Butte Storm and most recently with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Estevan Bruins.
“I’m committed to put together the best team I can,” says Lewgood. “We want to be in the mix each and every year.”
The Regina-born Lewgood played the game as a kid and got into some senior hockey later in his career, but he knew early on that coaching was what he wanted to do.
Still in his teens Lewgood first got behind the bench with a midget team and a couple years later he became an assistant coach with Pilot Butte. He later moved into the head coaching role with that club and year after year was a perennial contender winning four titles in a six-year span.
Estevan noticed his talents and brought him on board for the 2013-14 campaign. In the six succeeding seasons the Bruins have qualified for the playoffs each year and two seasons ago were one win away from claiming a league title when they lost a heart-breaking 2-1 decision in Game 7 of the Canalta Cup final to the Nipawin Hawks.
The Bruins were once again a threat last year winning their third straight Viterra Division title, but the road ended in the semi-finals when they fell to the Melfort Mustangs, this on the heels of overcoming a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Humboldt Broncos in the quarter-final round.
Now one of the SJHL’s senior statesmen, Lewgood is preparing once again to take a run at a championship, something that has eluded an Estevan squad for 20 years.
“We could potentially return 15 players, but likely won’t,” says Lewgood. “I like what we are going to have coming back.”
“We’ll be a little different looking,” added Lewgood. “We should be faster and smaller.”
Lewgood’s climb up the coaching ladder hasn’t stopped as last season he was an assistant coach with Team West at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta., where they captured the bronze medal with a 3-1 decision over the Czech Republic.
He also has inter-provincial experience after the Bruins hosted the Western Canada Cup in 2016 and another major event could potentially be in the future as Estevan has submitted a bid to host the 2021 national Junior A championship.
While Lewgood would like to get to that event through the front door by winning a league title, he knows a lot more hard work will be required to accomplish that goal. That is what makes the start of each season so exciting.
“The skill level has gotten significantly better,” says Lewgood of what he has witnessed in six seasons in the SJHL. “They (the players) are more students of the game.”
That’s a fair assessment coming from one of the true students himself.