The Calgary Hitmen have brought in a new assistant coach. Don MacGillivray will be the newest right-hand man to head coach Steve Hamilton in Calgary as they look to bring the Hitmen back to the promised land.
MacGillivray believes this is a great landing spot.
"They had an assistant coach leave their staff. I just felt like it was a good spot for me. They have a good team, a team that's on the rise, with some really good young players," MacGillivray continues. "I'm excited about the opportunity. I'll have a decent amount of responsibility. I'm looking forward to a new challenge."
The Hitmen finished the regular season with a 31-29-8 record, placing them seventh in the Eastern Conference standings. They won one playoff game against the Red Deer Rebels before being eliminated in the first round of the postseason.
The Calgary Hitmen have announced the hiring of Don MacGillivray as Assistant Coach.— Calgary Hitmen (@WHLHitmen) August 1, 2023
MacGillivray joins Head Coach Steve Hamilton and Assistant Coach Trent Cassan to form the coaching staff for the 2023-24 season.
Details 📰https://t.co/yw1P0d2u8k pic.twitter.com/BjmrOievx6
Despite how things ended last season, MacGillivray says all the signs are pointing north for this squad.
"They've got a group of defenceman that have been in the league for a couple of years and one really exciting young defenceman in Carter Yakemchuk, he'll probably be a first-rounder. Carson Wetsch, he just played for the U18 Hlinka Team. So, there are some high-end young guys," MacGillivray explains. "This is a team that competes hard every night and is looking to take another step."
MacGillivray spent the last seven seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings, being the head coach for the last two and a half before he was let go in November of 2022.
"I got to learn from a lot of different people in Brandon, which was a terrific experience. My first year as head coach was in the Regina Hub (bubble), and we won the Hub. To go through that experience with those players was very exciting. My second year as a head coach, we went through two COVID shutdowns and didn't really find our footing until the end of the year," MacGillivray continues. "Last year, we got off to a decent start but got caught in a losing streak. It's unfortunate, but those things happen. I was lucky enough to work with some great players, three of them getting drafted last year: Brett Hyland, Nate Danielson, and Carson Bjarnason. I'm proud of my work in Brandon and I'll look back on that time fondly."
The Edmonton native believes weaving through the hoops of the pandemic positioned him well for the job in his home province.
"I think that's one of the reasons I was attractive to Calgary. As an assistant coach, your job is to support the head coach and the decisions he wants to make. You give him some feedback or suggestions, but you support him and all the decisions he makes," says MacGillivray. "Having been through some tough experiences and some good experiences, I have a pretty good knowledge of the players and teams around the league. I think I can add to this staff, and that's all I really want to do. I just want to come in, do my job, help players get to the next level, be the best coach I can be, and help the team be successful, as well."
From 1998-2006, MacGillivray led the charge in Portage, being the head coach of the Terriers. He says his time in the MJHL made him the coach he is today.
"When I came to Portage, they hadn't won a playoff series since 1993. We had to work our way through that and take steps. When we won the league and the ANAVET Cup in 2005, that was an exciting time. You learn that you have to keep sticking with what you believe. The continuity we had within our staff in Portage was important. That's continued on since I left. I think Blake's (Spiller) staff has stayed pretty much the same since I left. I think that's why the Terriers have as much success as they do."
MacGillivray believes this team is poised for a long playoff run sooner or later.
"My objective here is to help as much as I can. Where that takes us remains to be seen. At this level, it goes in a cycle. You have a chance to win, and you're trying to figure out when the right time to go is. I think there's a lot of pieces in Calgary that can be real positives, but there's also other teams that are trying to win too," says MacGillivray. "I think we just want to get better every day and see where that takes us. Hopefully, we're right there knocking on the door, but if not, the following year, the team should be ready."
The Hitmen begin the 2023-24 season on September 22 against the Medicine Hat Tigers. MacGillivray will make his return to Brandon on October 7.