“I have a passion for hockey,” McGill alum and 17-year veteran NHL coach Jamie Kompon said. “It consumes your life, and it has consumed my life for the past thirty years.”
However, a long Stanley Cup-winning NHL career was never a given. Kompon first pursued a professional career, moving to Germany and competing in the ECHL. He eventually gave up his playing career to put his McGill education degree to use to teach high school mathematics at Loyola high school. He combined this with coaching the McGill Redmen hockey team–first as an assistant, then as co-head coach.
“I got the opportunity to be a teacher at Loyola school,” Kompon said. “It was the right decision for me at the time [….] I had the chance to coach hockey and teach mathematics and physical education.”
Kompon still had NHL aspirations. While he enjoyed teaching, the NHL was his calling.
“If I didn’t take that opportunity to be a coach and step out of my comfort zone, I would probably be teaching right now,” Kompon explained.
Kompon got his first NHL job with the St. Louis Blues on a friend’s recommendation to Head Coach Joel Quenneville. Since then, he’s won two Stanley Cups and been behind the bench of multiple NHL teams. Strong personal relationships have fuelled Kompon’s career.
“The jump to the NHL happened because you knew people,” Kompon explained. “It’s the right time and the right place, being fortunate to surround yourself with good people [….] I just happened to get an opportunity through a friend, and Joel Quenneville hired me in the NHL.”
In perhaps his biggest career move, Kompon became general manager and head coach of the Major Junior WHL’s Portland Winterhawks in 2014. His teaching experience came to the fore, coaching younger players.
“You are dealing with 16 to 20-year-olds, so the ability to relate to them and to talk to them [is important],” Kompon said. “It is their first time away from home and […] for some of them, when they are not the best player on their team.”
The WHL also required Kompon to micro-manage more than in the NHL.
“At the NHL level it is a little different, you ask someone to do something and it is done instantaneously,” Kompon said. “At the junior level […] the staff is not as large so sometimes things fall through the cracks, so you have to stay on top of them.”
Kompon’s Winterhawks compiled a 77-54-13 record over two seasons and made the Western Conference Final in 2015. He was let go in early 2016, but quickly found his way onto an NHL coaching staff after being approached by Winnipeg Jets’ Head Coach Paul Maurice.
“I still want to be a head coach,” Kompon said. “But I thought this was the right path to learn from someone different […Maurice and I] see the game in very similar ways and I am very excited to be learning from him.”
The relentlessness of the NHL forces coaches to develop strong professional bonds. Kompon is adamant that coaches must be collaborative, and not limited by labels such as ‘defensive’ or ‘offensive coaches.’
“No one is on an island,” Kompon said. “So no one says you are the power play guru [or] you are the penalty kill person. A lot of teams do not do that because it isolates one person and they do not necessarily have all the answers [….] If I am presenting the power play, I want [Assistant Coach] Charlie [Huddy]’s support [….] If he is doing the penalty kill, I want to make sure he is delegating to me also, so we get a different set of eyes [on the issue].”
Kompon now has his hands full with a young, talented Jets squad that boasts a potential superstar in 2016 No. 2 overall draft pick Patrick Laine, as well as dynamic youngsters Mark Scheifele, Nik Ehlers, and 2015 first rounder Kyle Connor.
“There are a lot of similarities between [our team] and […] the LA Kings,” Kompon said. “When I got there [the Kings] were having a changing of the guard and had a couple year gap when we were not a very good team […] All these kids were coming up through our system and we were developing them.”
Kompon’s challenge is to keep the players mentally fresh.
“Now it is about polishing [the young players] and making sure you stay on their habits,” Kompon said. “Young kids […] have ebbs and flows. The NHL is a grind [….] We have 16 games in the month of November, and with these young kids coming up it is about taking caring of themselves […and] I think it is mental more so than physical [….] We have to make sure they are progressing in the right way and staying mentally sharp.”
The Jets had six players miss the start of training camp for the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey, in addition to Head Coach Paul Maurice who served as an assistant to Ralph Krueger on the Team Europe coaching squad. Kompon, however, believes the experience will serve those players well as they prepare for the upcoming season.
“I know as a coaching staff we are watching this with our eyes wide open,” Kompon said. “It gets us excited for the season [….] I really think that as much as people say that maybe it is a detriment because you do not have that team bonding, players want to hear their experience […] and share some good experiences and stories.”
With Maurice busy with Team Europe in the World Cup, Kompon had to open up the Jets’ training camp alongside fellow Assistant Coach Charlie Huddy. All of Kompon’s skills as a coach and mentor will be on display. Perhaps his tenure with this young Jets team could be his final step before landing an NHL head coaching job.
Favourite class at McGill:
I am not sure. I don’t know, there were so many good influences [….] I enjoyed any anatomy classes.”
Favourite study spot:
My house. Because it was quiet there.
Amilios pizza. I think it closed down now. I lived above it and I couldn’t get enough of it [….] I tell you something, it has the best Slaw I ever had.