It’s like getting hired to play keyboards in a major touring band after being the one-man-band for a successful regional act.
It’s a bigger single responsibility, but with a whole lot fewer overall ones.
Of course, Steve Hamilton had help in making the Spruce Grove Saints an AJHL powerhouse in recent seasons, but being general manager and head coach (and a lot of everything else) for a smaller franchise is a time-consuming task, even if the WHL presents a steeper learning curve.
It’s also similar to a minor-pro head coach catching on as an assistant in the NHL. When the Edmonton Oil Kings overhauled its coaching staff entering its fourth year as a WHL franchise, Hamilton was the chosen one as the right-hand-man to new head coach Derek Laxdal.
As his “rookie” season in the Dub comes to a regular-season close, Hamilton says it’s been all good, on and off the ice.
“I’ve really enjoyed the transition,” Hamilton said this week, ahead of this Friday-Saturday home-and-home set with the Red Deer Rebels, a likely preview of a first-round playoff series. “It’s been a new challenge, a new group of players.
“We’ve got back to that teaching element of the game, where we’re taking a younger team and looking to move forward.
“It has been — on a personal note — a big change in terms of what my job description looks like. I’m solely responsible for my duties as an assistant coach rather than all the intricacies that go with being the general manager and head coach and recruiter and all the things that go on at that level.
“And I’ve found it much easier on the family life, if I’m being totally honest. I’ve got three young kids, and at the end of the day, as much as I still am thinking about hockey, the to-do list seems not as great. So it’s probably a healthier balance for me, for sure.”
He is, of course, referring to a hockey to-do list, not a “honey-do” list.
Moving his base of operations a few kilometres east has had its benefits for Hamilton as a coach and family man, but what about the hockey?
“I think the biggest thing you notice in the Western league level is that the high-end guys are extremely high end. They are legitimate pro prospects some of these guys — guys that are a year, half-year from playing at an NHL level.
“You notice, too, with these guys, it’s a hockey-first mentality. And it should be. This is the dream they want to pursue and we’re in the business of developing good young hockey players and good young men.”
He wasn’t implying that aspect was otherwise in the AJ, it’s the time-frame that’s different.
“I think that the window of time in the Alberta Junior Hockey League is a little bit more broad, because guys are looking to extend themselves through school and open that window time up to four or five years, versus the one, two, three years these guys are looking at.
“Not a lot of changes, really. The game is still the game. And it’s the same age group, but there are subtleties, for sure.”