It was a busy month of August for the Janesville Jets.
The city’s North American Hockey League team announced the departure of successful and popular head coach Joe Dibble on the first day of the month and hired former University of Wisconsin player and assistant coach and former NHL player Gary Shuchuk 19 days later.
The Jets are set to open their season Sept. 16 at Springfield before heading to the NAHL Showcase in Minnesota next week.
The Gazette caught up with Shuchuk this week as the team opened camp and began preparations for the season.
Q: You’ve seen the Janesville Jets organization from the view of a parent with a son that is playing for the team, as a scout and now as head coach. What stands out to you most about the organization?
A: I’ve known (team president) Bill McCoshen for a long time. I know a little bit about what this ownership group is about. They’re not in it to make money, they’re in it to promote hockey within the state, to give kids an opportunity to better themselves and an opportunity to go to college. I think that’s kind of the mission statement of this organization, from day one. I wanted to be a part of a program that moves kids to college.”
Q: How important was it to you to have a chance to be a head coach?
A: It was big. That’s the one thing I didn’t have on my resume, a head coach. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Being the GM, you’ve got all the paperwork and that kind of stuff. But my goal was to be a head coach. You’re running your own drills, running your own systems. When you’re an assistant coach, you have some input, but ultimately it’s the head coach’s job.
Q: How much of the first couple weeks will be learning and installing your systems?
A: I’ve been very fortunate that my assistant coach, Corey Leivermann, has been amazing. He was hired before I got here and has done all the paperwork stuff and all the billet stuff. I walked in here and have just had to get ready for the season and get ready for systems and get ready for practices. All the outside noise, has been taken care of, and that’s a credit to Corey.
Q: This is the time of year where coaches and GMs are assessing their roster and trying to make sure they have all the pieces in place to start the season. How much of that are you doing?
A: Today (Wednesday) was our second time on the ice, and I’m still trying to figure out guys’ names and who they are and what position they play. That’s my job right now. But we’ve already started to see who is stepping up and who is faltering a little—a little bit of separation. That’s what we want. We want to have competition. We don’t have any preseason games or exhibition games, so we’ve got to get ready for our first game Sept. 16. Everything we do is geared toward that first game. Guys have got to be on the same page, understand the concepts, drills, systems.
Q: How would you describe the brand of hockey that you hope to bring to the Jets?
A: I was a goal-scorer in college and juniors and in the pros. I love scoring goals. I want to see a high tempo—play on our toes, always forechecking, playing hard, playing fast. We’re in the entertainment business. Fans want to see a good brand of hockey, an exciting brand. I think scoring goals is very exciting. We’ve still got to be able to play defense and control that way. But our belief is a fast-tempo brand of hockey. We might not win every game, but we won’t get outworked. That will be our MO moving forward.
Q: What are we going to see from you when you’re on the bench during a Jets game?
A: I’m quiet, pretty mild. If I get heated, it’s probably because one of our guys got hit from behind or something that puts one of our players in harm’s way and they might get hurt. Otherwise, I’m not a screamer. ... For the most part I’m coaching and teaching. There’s a time and place to yell. But I knew as a player I hated when my coach would yell at me and scream at me during games. I took what I liked and disliked as a player and said, ‘If I ever coach, I’m not going to be doing that.’”
Q: The organization has done a great job of establishing expectations for what they expect inside and outside of the locker room. There aren’t a lot of returning players this season, but how much will you lean on the veterans to keep some of those expectations and ground work in place?
A: Joe Dibble did a nice job of starting the culture here; I have to give Joe a lot of credit for what he built here over the five years he was here. It’s become a destination spot for junior players. There’s a history of colleges that want to come here and watch games, and they know the players here are going to be good players. A lot of the credit for that culture starts with Joe. But for the veteran players, it’s their team. I’m not a big stickler on the rules and guidelines. It’s all common sense. You’re in a small community. People know if you’re wearing a Jets hat or jacket, you’re probably a player. It’s about common sense. The community has embraced the program. ... Now it’s hard to get a ticket sometimes. The fans and community have embraced this program, and we’ve got to show them respect, as well. We’ll continue doing that, and we’ll be out in the community as much as possible.
Q: How familiar are you with the NAHL?
A: I’ve recruited out of this league, so I know it very well. Over the years, there have been different kinds of players with a different skill set. Now you look at the USHL, it’s kind of a younger league. A lot of the older guys come to the North American League. But when you talk to any college coach or recruiter about guys in the North American League, they’re guys that all have a little chip on their shoulder. They have something to prove. They might have gotten bypassed by the USHL or didn’t even get a chance or were there and got let go. They just want a chance to prove they can play in college.
Q: Is hockey a sport that was part of your family and part of your upbringing?
A: Oh yeah, being in Canada, absolutely. I had two older brothers who played, my older brother coached, my dad played. I was on the rink, growing up, all the time. Outdoor rinks were a little different. But growing up, it was in my blood.
Q: And what led you from playing to want to be a coach?:
A: I was always a student of the game, always learning. And I always played with really good players, especially in the NHL in Detroit and L.A. Because of those players, I learned certain aspects of the game. Then I had my kids that were growing up, and I taught them and coached them at an early age. I thought that was intriguing. I liked it; I liked coaching. I always knew when I got done playing that I wanted to be a coach. I love the game of hockey, and there’s so much to give by showing people and teaching them. I was blessed to be able to play, and now I can give back this way.