Friday, November 27, 2009

Former Brahmas assistant coach back behind the bench

Forbes MacPherson takes job with the University of Prince Edward Island

The following is from "Panther pride prompted MacPherson to take job" by Bill Hunt of, published on Thursday November 26th.

Juggling lines will be easy for Forbes MacPherson considering what he's already juggling as the new coach of the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers.

MacPherson is a little more than a week into his tenure as the sudden successor to Dylan Taylor, still working with the line combinations drawn up by captain Thomas Waugh, still getting to know his players both on and off the ice.

He's got a wife, two preschool age children, a full-time career with a Chicago-based food ingredient company that keeps him busy, recently became the Charlottetown franchise holder for Simply For Life, a nutrition clinic with locations in six provinces, and recently purchased a new house.

"So we had already been kind of burning the candle at both ends," he said.

But, as the head coach of the 5-5-2 Panthers, who come to town to face the St. Thomas Tommies Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Lady Beaverbrook Rink (The Wolf 95.7), he believes he's got the best of both worlds.

"It's like hitting a home run," he said. "I feel really lucky to be in this situation."

When the opportunity to take over the Panthers was presented last week following the resignation of Taylor and his three assistants, "I kind of snapped at it," he said.

MacPherson had applied for the opening before.

"I went after the position pretty hard," he said. "I more than threw my hat in the ring, I made it pretty common knowledge that I was excited about the opportunity at UPEI."

He was no less excited when the opening came up again last week. But he was a whole lot busier by then.

"My wife said 'You've got to go after that, this is your chance,'" he said. "With that push, I jumped at it. After that, we kind of said 'OK, how are we going to handle this?'"

So far, so good, obviously.

He enlisted Mark Rupnow, the former Tommie and his former teammate at a couple of professional stops, as his assistant coach - "it's closer to two associate coaches," he said - and suddenly, he has the job he's always wanted.

"I didn't sleep for a couple of nights after I made the decision. But it was one of those things where I had been out of hockey for about a year. The juices were flowing again. After I made the decision I was thinking 'Did I take on too much?" But opportunities like this don't come along too often. You have to take advantage of them while you can."

Officially, MacPherson is the 'interim' head coach, a tag he will carry through the end of the season. He and his family will decide then what the long term future might be.

"I can sit back at the end of the season and reflect whether it was a positive experience for my family and I," he said. "But if I didn't make that decision, then I wouldn't have that time to reflect."

He and athletic director Ron Annear will sit down again after the season. "We're both comfortable with that because of the way my situation is set up now," he said. "And of course, I have to do a good job. From both angles, we're both looking at it as 'Let's get through this year, finish on a positive note and let's see where interest might be at that time.'"

But he's jumping in with both paws, as it were.

"In order for me to do things the way I want them to be done, both short term and long term, I have to assume it as my team right now," said MacPherson. "You can't adjust the way you think to the situation. To me, pretty much every coach is interim. It's pretty much the least secure profession out there."

MacPherson got a taste of coaching as an assistant with the expansionist Texas Brahmas of the Central Hockey League in 2006-07, leading the team to the Northern Division finals. But he wanted to raise his children - son Owen, now three, and daughter Hayden, one - in his hometown. "We loved it in Texas," said MacPherson. "I had just finished the first year of a two-year contract and we went to Game 7 of the semifinals. But I had always been kind of looking for an opportunity that would get my family back to Charlottetown, and the opportunity with the food ingredient company came up. It was 100 per-cent a family decision."

MacPherson came off the Island as a youngster to play for Mike Johnston's UNB Varsity Reds circa 1991-92. But after two seasons at UNB, he returned to Charlottetown to play for the Panthers.

He parlayed his success there into an 11-year professional career, including six with the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs.

He and Johnston didn't get along over his two seasons at UNB, but in hindsight, MacPherson calls him the best coach he ever played for. "I was young," he said. "When I went to UNB, I still had two years of junior left. I was probably hoping to get more playing time. I wasn't ready to pay dues at that time. There were guys who had been there three or four years and it was their time, and I didn't understand that process. At the time I felt it was kind of a negative experience. But I've always said, looking back, that he was probably the best coach I've ever had."

MacPherson grew up on Panther pride.

"When I was growing up in Charlottetown, the Panthers were 'It,'" he said. "They were the UNB at that time...they were the team going to the nationals, and all their players were the big names in town. I grew up watching the Panthers. There was no major junior or anything. My early childhood memories at the rink were of the Panthers."

But, see above. Life happened.

He had been to "a couple" of games last year - "I took my son, but he was two, and you know how much you get to watch-" and none this season before he took over from Taylor. So it's not a cliche when he says every player starts with a clean slate.

"I can honestly look into every player's eyes in that dressing room and say it's as clean a slate as they can get," he said. "I didn't have any preconceived ideas about any player. I'm still learning guys. I'm still barking out the wrong names in practice. For me, that's the most frustrating part."

Nothing that winning won't fix though. They knocked off the Saint Mary's Huskies 2-1 in overtime last Sunday after a 2-0 loss to UNB in his UPEI coaching debut last Saturday. "When we came in, I couldn't even throw lines together," he said. "I didn't know which guys were wingers and which were centres. I basically got the captain to throw four lines together and they worked out well. We did a little bit of tinkering, but nothing major. We'll probably use that as a foundation for this semester at least. It's worked out well so far.''

Photo Credit: Robert Keith

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