Coaching opportunity with Raiders brings McDonald’s career full circle

Photo Courtesy of the Prince Albert Raiders Ryan McDonald, who will be an assistant coach for the Prince Albert Raiders this season, had 162 points in 182 games over the course of two-and-a-half years with his hometown club.

Having grown up here and suited up for his hometown team during his Western Hockey League career, Ryan McDonald’s coaching journey has brought him back to the Prince Albert Raiders.

After spending the 2020-21 season with the club in the Regina hub, the 33-year-old has joined the Raiders as an assistant coach on a full-time basis.

“To be able to walk back in the Art Hauser Centre yesterday and hear the sounds of the rink as the guys were out on the ice…it brought back a lot of great memories,” McDonald said on Thursday during the Raiders annual golf classic at the Cooke Municipal Golf Course.

“It was a very unique situation in the bubble and being around the guys 24/7 for a couple of months, but everything ran seamlessly from start to finish and it was a ton of fun. I learned a lot about the game from (head coach) Marc (Habscheid) and (assistant coach) Jeff (Truitt), but it was also great to be with them away from the rink. They took me in right from the start.”

Prior to joining the Raiders last spring, McDonald was the head coach for the Warman Wildcats Under-18 program, who made the jump to the provincial AAA ranks in 2020-21.

He had also spent three seasons as the bench boss for the Wildcats Under-15 squad.

“When I was leaving the Raiders after my 20-year-old season, (general manager and head coach) Bruno (Campese) pulled me aside and asked if I had considered any coaching opportunities, and that kind of put the bug in my ear so to speak,” McDonald said.

“Once I finished my U Sports career (which lasted from 2009 to 2014 and saw him play for the Lakehead Thunderwolves and the Saskatchewan Huskies), I stepped back for a year to decided what I wanted to do.

“A position opened up in Warman and I got involved with the Bantam AA team there. It’s really turned into a love affair as I love giving the knowledge of what I learned during my career back to the kids as we help them develop for the next level.”

A second round pick by the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2003 WHL Bantam Draft, McDonald was dealt to the Regina Pats at the 2004 trade deadline as part of a deal that saw the Wheat Kings acquire netminder Josh Harding.

After putting up 24 points in 124 games for the Pats, McDonald was acquired by the Raiders in Dec. 2006 and posted 162 points in 182 games before graduating from the junior ranks in 2009.

During his time in junior and university hockey, McDonald learned a lot from his coaches that he’s been able to bring into his roles behind the bench.

“I think every coach that you have teaches you something different and that was certainly the case for me, especially starting out in the Prince Albert Minor Hockey system,” McDonald said. 

“When I got to the WHL, (current Raiders general manager) Curtis (Hunt) was my head coach with the Pats and I learned a lot from watching how he and the coaching staff did things in Regina. When I was with the Raiders, Peter Anholt was someone that I loved playing for, as he was such a down-to-earth guy. Bruno, Joel Sherban at Lakehead and Dave Adolph with the Huskies all had different voices and approaches to things, but I learned a lot from all of them as well.

“You just try to take each piece and put what you think is the best approach for the kids you are coaching and the team you are with, which was something I really focused on during my time in Warman.”

Unlike other coaches who have made the jump up to a major junior staff, McDonald won’t be spending the pre-season getting used to all of the players on the Raiders roster, as he got to know the majority of the squad during his time in the Regina bubble.

“It was great to catch up with a lot of familiar faces when I came to the rink on Wednesday,” McDonald said.

“When you are around the same group of people for a couple of months, you start to build those tight connections and we had a lot of fun as a group during the spring.”

The Raiders, who will start their exhibition slate on Friday, Sept. 17 at home against the Regina Pats, will be announcing their schedule for next week’s training camp on Friday.

In off-ice news, the Raiders have made a change in their hockey operations department as they parted ways with director of player personnel Curt Brownlee on Wednesday.

Brownlee had been with the Raiders scouting department since the 2011-12 season and moved into the director of player personnel role after the passing of Ron Gunville in Dec. 2018.

“We thank Curt for his time as a Prince Albert Raider,” general manager Curtis Hunt said in a prepared statement.

“He was a big part of our championship team and we wish him the best of luck in his future endeavours.”

Bruno Zarrillo, who has been a scout with the Raiders for the last decade, has been promoted to the director of player personnel position.