Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Notre Dame’s Pilkington No. 1 priority to move players on

It is impossible to sugarcoat that wins have not come nearly as often as Brett Pilkington and the Notre Dame Hounds would have hoped since he took over the club’s reins in 2020.

But as much as the Calgary, AB native is a highly competitive individual, the drive to develop young players and move them on to the next level is No. 1 on his priority list, and No. 2 is not very close.

“To me, coaching is all about giving players the opportunities I had within the game and in life,” he says.

“I got to experience the intensity of NCAA Division I hockey as a player, and to understand what it was like to enjoy the game, but also the need to work and compete every day as a professional with the need to put food on the table of my family.”

Pilkington, 40, jumped to Bowling Green State University in Ohio after only one year in junior hockey. He then played for 10 different pro clubs, reaching the heights of the American Hockey League with the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders systems.

Upon retirement in 2010, he went into the ‘real world’ where he worked in sales, but the game called him back. After time spent in minor and junior hockey in his home province, he took the job as Phil Roy’s assistant coach with the Notre Dame Hounds of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before the 2019 campaign.

One year later Phil left for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Brett took charge.

Despite only one playoff season since, the 2021-2022 campaign that featured the prodigious young talents of current Princeton University forward Kevin Anderson, and Mercyhurst University defenceman Jaryd Sych, among others, his club has averaged seven post-secondary commitments per season.

With that level of consistency in mind, Pilkington’s time at Wilcox can certainly be seen as a success.

“I am looking first and foremost for players who want to grow in their humanity and advance in the sport,” he says.

“For sure, we want people passionate about the game, who can skate on our big ice, and work every day; but that person who wants to see the game take him beyond the SJHL is so important in my evaluation process.”

The last few years he has taken that passion to Team Saskatchewan as well, as he assisted the Provincial U16 silver-medal winning club at the last Canada Winter Games, and will be the head coach at the 2025 WHL Cup.

In the off-season, Brett plans to take his family to British Colombia to see extended family and do some boating, while a large batch of brand new Hounds have already been recruited to try to bring ND back to the post-season in ’24-’25.

“Things are looking good for next year,” he says, “we will be young, as usual, and will be looking to move players on.”