The Las Vegas Wranglers begin the 2013-14 season with a new head coach and general manager, one who is a familiar face to the fans and loves Sin City like a native. Former Wranglers Defenceman Mike Madill has spent most of his playing career with the team, taking a brief journey to play overseas, not Europe mind you but Japan, and then returned to Las Vegas to serve as the teams’ Captain from 2011-2013. It is his first professional coaching in any league but his depth and breadth of experience bodes well for his team. Like most Canadians, life revolved around hockey in his formative years.
“My dad head coached at the college level for a long time, a great programme in Canada, McGill University. He also ran the rink in Montreal. I’ve worked since I was a little kid running hockey schools and camps, so I’ve been around it since, well my whole life has been around hockey.”
It seems that coaching may be in his blood. His father Herb Madill was the head coach at McGill University in the 1970s and his brother Luke now coaches and teaches for Hillview Prep High School in Canada. At the end of the 2012-2013 season, Mike Madill wasn’t necessarily certain where his hockey career was headed. He thought about going over to Europe to play or returning as a Wrangler. He had also contemplated not playing at all especially since he has had surgery on both of his knees along with other injuries and was a little older than most players at the ECHL level.
“I was looking at the possibility of a medical sales job, or maybe starting a little business with my brother in law, I didn’t know if I was going to play, if the team would want me here, or if I was going to go overseas to play…”
The head-coaching job for the Wranglers came about quickly back in April when Madill was asked to replace then Coach Ryan Mougenel for the 2013-2014 season. Madill had served as the team’s captain under Mougenel, who was “excited for Mike and that it was a great opportunity for him.” During his Captaincy, Madill learned much about how the coaching process worked; he was allowed to help in some of the decision-making and shown how to handle travel arrangements and the immigration process for players, so he essentially had a head start when the offer came to coach the team.
“…You know you kind of re-evaluate every summer, but when everything happened it was, just the concept of going overseas and not knowing where you are going to be the next year and the next year, and then having the chance to do something like this (coaching) in what is pretty much my hometown was something I had to jump on, I was honored for the opportunity.”
The Wranglers ownership believes in Madill’s abilities, despite the lack of professional coaching experience and given his background, it is easy to understand why he was their first choice. Madill has been with the Wranglers organization since 2007 with a one-year stint in Japan to play with the Nippon Paper Cranes during 2010-2011 and through two different coaches and several playoff runs, earning him virtually veteran status in the ECHL and a fixture in the Las Vegas Wranglers organization. Coming out of Saint Lawrence University, Madill signed with the Minnesota Wild and as a rookie attended both the AHL and NHL camps. The following year after playing with the Houston Aeros and the now defunct ECHL Texas Wildcatters, Madill was sent to the Calgary Flames organization and went through their camp system, before settling down with Las Vegas. Having gone through the training camps at every level gave him a lot of insight into what makes a good hockey player and what teams are looking for in a player. He also realized that timing and luck play a big role in your chances at Living the Dream and what you imagine your life to be when you are a kid isn’t always the way it unfolds.
“There are so many good players out there, so many big strong guys that are good at hockey, it’s not as easy as you think when you are a kid growing up to get a chance to play in the NHL. I would think a lot of it is timing and that’s something I’ve learned along the way and not that I’ve got comfortable playing in the ECHL but I think a lot of it, when I first started, I said ‘you know I’d like to play 3-4 years in the minor leagues before I start a career in Europe if I don’t get to move up’ but, things definitely changed when I met Autumn, my wife in Vegas.”
Las Vegas became his new home and so when the opportunity to coach the Wranglers and stay in the city he has grown to love came up, it was an easy decision. “I’ve played for this team for so long, I love this team the fans are so loyal, the organization is so professional.” He is happy the organization has the confidence in his leadership and he believes his past experiences at all levels will guide his coaching. He knows it’s a big jump going “from being a teammate with these guys to being a coach.” Madill says the transition won’t be as difficult as it could be, given that he served as the team captain for the last two years and he didn’t live in the team housing except during his first year with the team. He feels that through circumstance he has already had a separation in place for a while with his teammates. The most significant difference for him is the business aspect of the game that he didn’t have to worry about as a player.
“I’m not totally fresh to the situation, but I think the biggest difference is the general manager side of things where you have to start looking at salaries and trying to keep things where they are budgeted, that’s the biggest difference. Usually you go home (during the summer) as a player and you go to workout, or hit up the golf course, or work a hockey school, but I’ve been at the rink just about every day trying to learn how the business side of things works. That’s a big change but I like that stuff, it’s been a lot of fun and the organization has been great to me, and helped with anything I’ve asked for.”
One of Madill’s first tasks as Head Coach will be to start building the team for the 2013-2014 season. He has always felt that both former coaches Mougenel and Gulutzan brought in quality guys to the organization and he wants to continue that trend. He’s talked to all the players who were here last year and knows that some of them want to move up or play overseas so he is trying to give as much time for decision-making as he can given the constraints he has to operate under.
“A lot wait until the end of July to decide to go overseas or get an American League deal. That’s how it works. The business side of it, the timing, is kind of crummy. I would have my whole team back if they wanted back and if guys have a great opportunity someplace else that’s totally fine with me, I understand how it works. We will just start filling the holes after I see what spots need to be filled”.
Madill is interested in players that show up, continue to work hard through a long, difficult 72 game season and find ways to win games even when they are tired, hungry and on day 9 of a 10-day road trip. Being able to find balance and be mentally tough is a key skill at any level.
“You need guys that are mentally strong to play whether they have energy or not. I think I am looking for a couple more energy guys this year to keep the pace up even when things aren’t running as smooth as they could be.”
Ultimately, Madill wants players on his team to be happy and have a chance to play their dreams and succeed beyond the minor leagues.
“I’ve seen young players come through here, who climb the ladder and end up playing in the NHL right now so that’s my goal…I want them to play their roles and get better with that and whatever they are good at…help them get to the next level. I’m going to look at building off those kinds of things.”
This article was originally published for The Bulls Sheet, a minor league hockey website.