CAPE BRETON: The Cape Breton West Islanders have named former player Keenan Gillis as a new assistant coach.
“We’re thrilled to have Keenan rejoin the Islanders,” President Brian MacInnis said in a release. “And share his knowledge and experience with our current players.”
The 22-year-old Gillis joins the U18 organization with his fair share of hockey experience, including some solid local roots.
“I’m expecting it’s going to be different, I haven’t really got going yet,” he told The Reporter. “It’s going to be a lot different in a way, and not so much in another.”
A native of Judique, Gillis, a stalwart defenseman played three years with the hometown Cape Breton West Islanders Major Midget team, recording 10 goals and tallying 64 assists for a total of 74 points in 109 regular season games.
In 2017, he was a key member of the Telus Cup Championship squad and recorded 11 points in 11 games during their push.
The team’s new assistant bench boss spent three seasons in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League (MJAHL) with the Edmundston Blizzard and Pictou County Crushers.
After raising the Telus Cup with the Islanders, Gillis was a solid presence on the blueline as the Blizzard captured the Maritime Jr. A Championship.
Gillis joins a coaching staff that already includes Head Coach Kyle Gillies, who was an assistant coach with the team for over 10 years, before replacing Nick MacNeil who accepted a coaching position in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
“I feel as though I paid a lot of attention to coaches and the way they coached and their different styles,” he said. “I’m just going to try and take all the positives I thought were good from the great coaches I’ve had in my career and turn it into my own style.”
As someone who’s been in their position before, in chasing the lucrative Telus Cup Championship, Gillis believes he’ll be able to relate to his players more as he’s only been removed from playing the sport for two years.
And for him, it’s more than just winning hockey games; he wants to really be able to assist in the player’s development as a whole.
“Really just get wherever the players want to be, if it’s Q or Jr. A, whatever their goals are,” Gillis said. “I just want to be there to help them out the most and give them the most guidance for them to turn into the player they want to be.”
The former Islander will get his first taste of being behind the bench and his first look at the current squad when the Cape Breton West Islanders begin training camp at the Civic Centre on Aug. 18.