Jake Gushue is living an extraordinary adventure as a first-year assistant coach with the Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League.
The 26-year old Gushue is a former defenseman with the Ice Dogs, having played for Dryden during its 2016-2017 championship season. Now Gushue is an assistant to the man who coached him, Ice Dogs coach and general manager Kurt Walsten.
“Being back in Dryden has been a dream come true,” the effervescent Gushue relayed to Hockey News North. “It has been everything I expected and so much more. I am beyond happy with how things have been going in Dryden. Everything from the program, coaching and being back with the people in Dryden.”
Learning from Walsten, his former coach, being aligned alongside his fellow Dryden assistants and again associated with long time Ice Dogs president Mike Sveinson has Gushue feeling good. And he likes the potential of an Ice Dogs team that is in second place in the seven team SIJHL with a record of 16-7-1 ahead of the resumption of play in the 2023 segment of the schedule.
“I have learned a lot from Kurt so far this season and have had a blast working alongside (assistant coaches) Ben (Borton) and Jason (Langlais) and of course Mike (Sveinson.) I think our season has been pretty strong so far. We have showed signs and played games like that of a championship team,” said Gushue. “We are working on now doing it for a full 60 minute game, night in and night out. We have a great group of guys, all very respectful and hard workers. Those are two great characteristics we can work with.
“Kurt, Mike and the team expect big things this year and we know we have the players to do it. It will be a great second half for the ice Dogs. I think the closeness of our team is great,” he added.
Gushue is also impressed with the calibre of play of the league that he was once an impact player in.
“It makes for very competitive hockey every single game. There have been many games this year I was impressed not only as a coach but as a fan of the game. I think it has helped build some strong rivalries, which is great for the league and gives the fans a great, hard nosed game to watch every single night in the SIJHL,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sveinson, as president of the Ice Dogs, loves the passion that Gushue has for the team and the impact that he has made in his return to Dryden as an assistant coach.
“Jake is a passionate room guy and an insightful tactician,” Sveinson told Hockey News North. “Add those traits to the depth of knowledge and passion he brings to our off ice training program, and you’ll be able to deduce all that I see in Jake’s value to the club. Jake returned to the team as a coach with the same strength of character that he had as a player. Boiled down as simply as it can be boiled down: Jake cares about the Ice Dogs, the team, and the logo. We hired him on those strengths, and the gravy has been how well developed he is, relative to his age, as an x’s and o’s coach.”
To be sure, few are those in the junior A hockey world who get to head half way across Canada from their home to help coach the team that they once played for. But Gushue ventured 1,630 miles from his home in Maple Ridge, British Columbia to the northwestern Ontario town of Dryden to be an assistant coach with the Ice Dogs this season — and he is loving every minute of his reunion tour.
Besides playing for the Ice Dogs and being a big part of the championship team of ’16-17, Gushue said he “fell in love” with the town of Dryden, which has a population of about 7,700.
“I loved everything about Dryden when I was here as a player,” Gushue relayed. “I got to play for a great coach in Kurt and win a championship and I got to stay with a great billet family like the Sveinsons. My parents will tell you that I was the happiest kid ever when I was in Dryden. It is a great little hockey town with great fans and I am so blessed to be back here again.”
After moving on from Dryden and junior A hockey in 2017, Gushue received a scholarship to play and attend school at Briercrest College, which is a member of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. He played there for two years before a serious hip injury ended his playing days at the age of 22.
He then returned home to British Columbia, coached minor hockey, helped out with the Langley Rivermen junior A team and started his own business, Gushue Athletic Development. And then came the call to ask if he was interested in returning to Dryden, this time as an an assistant coach.
“I am one for one winning a championship in Dryden and now I want to make it two for two,” summed up Gushue. “I have thought of myself as an Ice Dog ever since I first got to Dryden (via trade with the Red Lake Miners during the ’16-17 season.) I never stopped being a proud Ice Dog. And now I am living it again.”