Taras McEwen is an Assistant Coach with the Western Hockey League’s Winnipeg ICE and the Head Coach of Hockey Manitoba’s Male Under-16 Program of Excellence that will compete at the 2023 Canada Winter Games from February 18th to February 26th, 2023 in Prince Edward Island.
McEwen, 31, was formerly the Head Coach and General Manager of the Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (2019 – 2021) and has experience with the SaskFirst Hockey Program as a coach and with Team Saskatchewan (Male U16) as an assistant coach. McEwen also spent time as the assistant coach of the Notre Dame Hounds in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for one season before moving on to become the Manager of Scouting for the Winnipeg ICE in 2017.
We recently spoke with Taras McEwen about his personal coaching philosophy, the 2023 Canada Winter Games, his first season as an Assistant Coach with the Winnipeg Ice, his biggest influences, and more.
Hockey Manitoba: How did you originally get into coaching?
Taras McEwen: For me, I’ve kind of grown up in the game. My dad has coached Junior A in the SJHL, then he went on to the WHL and now he’s with Vegas as their US Amateur Head Scout. When my dad coached in Swift, I was the stick boy around the team and it’s kind of always something that I’ve wanted to do. I played a little bit but the coaching, scouting side was what I was always around and followed and had a real interest and passion for so it’s kind of a family business for us just kind of growing up around it and been a part of it since I’ve been young.
Hockey Manitoba: How would you describe your personal coaching philosophy?
Taras McEwen: For me, it’s about connecting with the players, just getting to know them, what makes them successful. Every kid, every player is different. How they take information, how they want information and feedback. So for me, it’s really trying to get to know the players. For us, it’s a short-term competition. You can get into too much detail and systems and habits and stuff so we’ve kind of discussed as a coaching staff, what’s important to us, team success and what we think is going to be successful at the tournament and then it’s really trying to get to know the players and getting them to have some team building when they’re with us and trying to get to know each other.
Regardless of how we play, we have to be able to trust each other, the coaching staff and the players, and have good communication at the tournament like that if we are going to be able to make adjustments on the fly because it’s going to come at you quick and you’re going to have to make adjustments. So it’s really getting to know them and how they take feedback and getting to know each other is important.
Hockey Manitoba: What was it that made you want to coach U16 Team Manitoba?
Taras McEwen: I was involved with Team Saskatchewan for a long time. I was at the WHL Cup for three years, one year as an assistant, two years as a video coach. I was also a head scout with them for a couple of years. So I was involved with that program and that program really led to where I am today. Through the High Performance program, it gave me the chance to meet some coaches that are coaching in the Western League right now and kind of building some relationships and really help me with my coaching career.
I was at the WHL Cup last year in Red Deer, scouting it with the ICE and our coaching staff and we were kind of chatting there and Jake Heisinger, who’s our Assistant General Manager, kind of mentioned why don’t you put your name in as we were discussing it. I think when you get to work with those group of kids, it’s the same as the Western Hockey League. those elite players, real good players that you can have a real impact on even though it’s for a short amount of time. They want to get better, they want to learn. The Canada Winter Games is just a different animal. It’s something that I haven’t been a part of. I’ve been part of the WHL Cup, which was a lot of fun and real eye-opening but the Canada Winter Games only comes around once every four years.
It’s a real special honour to be the Head Coach and for our players, that’s kind of what we want them to understand too. This doesn’t come around every year, it’s a very special opportunity to go and represent the province. That’s kind of the reason I wanted to do it and step up. It only comes around so many years and I haven’t been part of it. Getting to know our kids, we have a really special group so we’re really excited about the group going into it.
Hockey Manitoba: This is your first year as an Assistant Coach with the Winnipeg ICE. What do you think will be the biggest transition for you going from coaching in the MJHL to coaching in the WHL?
Taras McEwen: I think from just my first game in the preseason, I think it’s just the pace of play with the players. It just ramps up that much more. I was standing behind the bench in our first game in Brandon and I was taken back a little bit with how fast the game was. That’s kind of the team that we have obviously and I’ve been a part of that here for the last six years. We have a team that can skate, has lots of skill and hockey sense. Being on the bench, up close and personal, you can really see that and that’s kind of the biggest adjustment. The players are just that much better and that much faster.
Working with James (Winnipeg ICE Head Coach James Patrick) too is just an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up when they approached me in the summertime. I have been around him here for the last five years since we started in Cranbrook and he’s really good. He has lots of experience from playing in the NHL and coaching in the NHL and just being around him for this last month and a half, I’ve learned a lot. I’m really looking forward to the year. The biggest difference is going to be the travel obviously. That will be the biggest adjustment but I’m looking forward to it. It will be a lot of fun. We got a really good group of kids and I’m excited when the other guys come back to kind of get to work.
Hockey Manitoba: The expectations are very high for the Winnipeg ICE this season with so many top returning players. How important is it this year to manage expectations and not lose sight of the ultimate goal?
Taras McEwen: For us, it’s always been about development and developing the player. Our management group does a really good job with that. We’re not a team that makes a lot of trades. We added a couple of players last year but most of our team is drafted and developed from the last six years that we’ve been doing this. That’s one of James’ strong suits. He has the ability to bring in young players and develop them.
You can kind of see from last year and even this year with our 20-year-olds, Owen Pederson, Mikey Milne, Connor McLennon, all those guys started at 16 on a really young team, got the opportunity and now Mikey Milne was just drafted this past year by an NHL team and he was a late round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. Our ownership group is really patient. I think it’s just a process for us. We understand that we have a good team and we have real good veterans coming back but it’s real important for us to make sure that everyone is getting better. All of our new players and young players.
That’s kind of why it’s a really good opportunity for our young guys right now in the preseason and to start the regular season, whenever we get these guys back, we don’t know. We just have to continue developing them and help them out. We have a real good staff, a world class staff off the ice as well, covering all areas. Strength and conditioning, mental skills, nutrition, everything. So it’s training and development is our focus for our team and trying to get better every day. Every day we come to the rink, it’s something that our players do take pride in. If you came to one of our practices, you would be just surprised with how hard our guys practice, every day, day in and day out. That’s the reason they have success and they had success last year, it’s just those daily habits and trying to get better every day.
Hockey Manitoba: What coaches have had the biggest influence on you in your hockey career?
Taras McEwen: I think early on, playing minor hockey, Dennis Scott is someone who is from Whitewood, Saskatchewan, had a big impact for me. I was just at his son’s wedding here and in the wedding party. He’s someone I have been around my whole life. That’s where both my parents are from, is Whitewood. He’s probably the first one that had a real impact. He’s just a real leader in our community in Whitewood. He’s done a lot for minor hockey when I was growing up and someone that really kicked things off for me.
And then probably Evan Taypotat. My first coaching job, I coached a Junior B team in Ochapewace reservation, just outside of Whitewood. Evan was in the military and he’s now the Chief of Kahkewistahaw First Nation. I just learned a lot from him, not so much on the coaching side but just about leadership. We didn’t have a very strong team but a lot of First Nation players were on the team so it was just a real good learning opportunity for me to get to know him, get to know the culture. I grew a lot in those two years and it really helped me just in my leadership and how you lead people and how you deal with people. He probably had the biggest influence on me in that regard.
Hockey Manitoba: What general advice would you give to any coach who aspires to coach at the high performance level?
Taras McEwen: For me, it’s meet as many people as you can in the hockey world. Get involved in the high performance programs. For me, that was a real kick start to meeting some coaches and building relationships that I still have and still talk to those guys that were from volunteering in my zone in Saskatchewan when I first started coaching. It’s the relationships that you build that really help you in your hockey career. It truly is a real small, small world. You just want to get to the rink and meet as many people as you want.
If it’s something that you want to do, sign up for the high performance events and get to know people because you never know who might come knocking on your door with an opportunity. It might be someone from one of those events. Even from some of these past Spring events, working with some of my coaches, a few young coaches that wanted to get involved, I told them to come and help. Nick Trudel, who’s our video coach this year, he’s a young guy who’s helping out with the Freeze Junior A team, he’s helping us out with some video. It’s guys like that who want to get into it. It’s volunteering, it’s a big time commitment but you got to love it, you got to have a passion for it. It’s great to be a part of full-time, there is nothing better. Even the U16’s, it’s a big time commitment, but regardless if it’s volunteer or not, I just love to do it, I have a passion for it. It’s about building relationships and getting to know as many people as you can.