~ Written by Arthur C. Green of Lakeland Connect
The Bonnyville Junior A Pontiacs are pleased to announce that assistant coach T.J. Millar has accepted a role with the Toronto Maple Leafs in
the National Hockey League.
Millar has been hired as part of the club’s new Coaching Development Program that begins this 2021-2022 season.
This program will provide full-time, one-year paid contract positions within the Maple Leafs’ management team and coaching staff, respectively, to Black or Indigenous candidates or those who identify as part of another marginalized and/or racialized group and looking to gain exposure in a professional sports organization.
“This is the most exciting day of my life,” said T.J. Millar. “I cannot thank the Bonnyville Pontiacs organization enough, from head coach Rick Swan to assistant coach Neil Langridge, and to all the players, fans, billets, and volunteers thank you for being part of my journey.”
In an exclusive interview with Lakeland Connects, Michael Menzies, Millar told Menzies, “It’s an opportunity to learn within the Maple Leafs organization and an opportunity to potentially have a contribution towards the organization but it’s an opportunity for someone like myself to come in and, and see what the professional level is all about.”
Millar says things went tremendously well and now he is in the process of getting ready to head to Toronto and is looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’m flustered,” Millar told Menzies in the exclusive interview. “Sometimes I catch myself, is this real? Is this something that’s happening to me? I’m extremely grateful and fortunate to be in the position I am, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Menzies asked Millar what the last 24 hours have been like.
“I had excitement, nerves, a significant amount of gratitude and just overall complete enjoyment of the process and to everything that’s happened in my life and my coaching career up to this point,” Millar replied.
“I just find myself so incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing people with so many influences that I can consider, mentors, friends, families, I am just so grateful.”
While in the Coaching Program, on and off-ice mentorship opportunities will be provided by head coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff, the club’s player development staff, the organization’s ECHL and AHL (American Hockey League) coaching staffs, and various other leaders within the hockey program.
“On behalf of the Bonnyville Pontiacs organization, I want to thank T.J. for his commitment, drive, and work ethic over the past three seasons,” said coach and general manager Rick Swan. “His development as a coach has been incredible. T.J. is an everyday learner who embraces that doing it right is an all-the-time thing. T.J. left the jersey in a better place and I’m excited to see him succeed in his new opportunity.”
Millar joined the AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League) and the Pontiacs in 2018-19 taking a lead role with the team’s defencemen and in individual and team video.
Previously, he spent two seasons with the Nipawin Hawks, winning the SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League) title in 2017-18.
The Hawks were facing the Humboldt Broncos in the playoffs in 2018 when en route to Nipawin their bus crashed, sending shockwaves across the country. Millar’s involvement with Hockey Alberta’s Pee Wee Prospects Program of Excellence at the 2020 Alberta Winter Games earned him a gold medal.
The 27-year-old from Calgary attended the University of Finland obtaining a Sport Management Masters Degree specializing in hockey coaching. While overseas, he served as an assistant coach with the Vierumki United U20 team in the Jr. A Suomi-sarja league.
Upon the creation of the program back in May, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said he is excited to introduce this program.
“We understand and embrace the responsibility we have to increase the equity, diversity, and inclusion within the game of hockey and our community, and I commend Kyle Dubas for taking charge of this initiative. It’s one that I know our organization as a whole stands behind,” said Shanahan.
“This program is a positive step towards creating more opportunities on the coaching and management side,” said general manager Kyle Dubas in May when the program was launched. “But we know we have a long way to go to eliminate all barriers within this game.” The Bonnyville Pontiacs want to wish T.J. Millar the best of luck and success in his new venture and hope he continues to progress as a coach and human being.
Millar thanks the Town of Bonnyville and the Lakeland Region for making him feel welcome and for making him a part of the community while he was here.
“Thank you to the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Thank you to the Town of Bonnyville,” Millar said. “I just like to say thank you over and over again.”
-With Files From Michael Menzies