Wolfe happy to lead Cougars
Wes Wolfe’s decision to take a step back from the Ontario Hockey League to become head coach of the Cobourg Cougars has worked out as planned.
The 32-year-old Niagara Falls native spent five seasons with the Erie Otters as an assistant coach but felt he needed the challenge of running his own ship.
“I think it’s definitely been a good learning experience,” Wolfe said. “The primary motivation for me coming back a level was to get more experience as a head coach and I think this has been exactly that. I also inherited the general manager’s duties and that’s added a little extra work but certainly it is a welcome addition.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be the one sitting in the big chair and making the decisions. From that end of things, it’s been a welcome move.”
Wolfe has made a number of moves as GM —including bringing in former Niagara IceDog A.J. Cook —and feels the organization is on the right track. St. Catharines native Parker Hendsbee is also a member of the Cougars and is fourth in team scoring with 21 points. The Cougars are 14-13-1-2 and in fourth place in the East Division of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League.
“One of the objectives I had taking over in Cobourg was to level-up the expectations of what it’s like to be a major junior hockey player,” Wolfe said. “We’re trying to build a program our players can come to, and while winning is always a priority for a team, player development and player advancement is really what every level of junior hockey is all about. We’re trying to develop an environment where players can advance their careers and get better and win some hockey games while we do it.”
The OJHL is in a holding pattern like all other junior programs in Ontario with the exception of the OHL due to the current COVID pandemic lockdown restrictions.
“Last season, the OJHL was able to play, albeit non-contact games, while the OHL was not going and I was on the wrong side of that,” Wolfe said. “Now that the OHL is going and the OJHL isn’t, I wish I could be at the right end of this at some point.”
Wolfe returned to his Crystal Beach home with his wife Aly at Christmas time where they remain, anxiously awaiting the word that the lockout has been lifted. He has managed to get out on some outdoor ponds for some skill sessions with minor hockey players and is doing his best to keep in shape with gyms also closed.
Wolfe understands the frustration of the players.
“I think one of the things we’ve tried to impart on our players over this recent pause is it’s OK to be disappointed but less OK to be discouraged,” he said. “The challenge is to remain optimistic and have hope despite the fact we continue to be let down how things have gone over the last little bit.
“We’ve tried to give the players room and space to express their frustration and for the last week or so get back together and set the mood moving forward that there is something to look forward to.”
Heading into the two-year anniversary of COVID, Wolfe feels the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone.
“I can see and feel the frustration,” he said. “They’ve been through so much and so many of our players are looking to use hockey as a vehicle to further their education. Sports is a vehicle for that and it’s also an outlet for all the other things in their lives that are stresses. When you take that away, it’s definitely something I can see weighing on people for sure.”
Wolfe began his coaching career at the junior C level with the Niagara Riverhawks. He also coached the Niagara Rivermen U16 and U18 AAA squads before moving to the Pelham Pirates and St. Catharines Falcons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. He joined the Otters for the 2016/17 season.
“The overall depth is probably a little bit higher than GOJHL,” Wolfe said of the OJHL. “Definitely program and division specific. There’s really high-end players with D1 commitments and guys who are on their way up. There are teams in the GOJHL that would be strong teams in the OJHL as well.
“It’s opened my eyes to what the OJHL is in terms of league. I’ve only know what the GOJHL looks like. It’s what I grew up around and coached before going to the OHL.”
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