Patrick Sexton won championships on the ice as a player and as an assistant coach with the Penticton Vees of the BC Hockey League.
Friday (Sept. 2), he begins the process of turning the Coquitlam Express into champions.
That’s when Sexton blows his whistle to open the team’s training camp as its new head coach.
It’s a big step up for the 28-year-old, who was an assistant to Vees’ bench boss Fred Harbinson since 2019 and helped guide Penticton to the Fred Page Cup as BCHL champions last season— just seven years after he hoisted the big trophy as a defenseman for the team.
But, he said, it’s a role he’s been preparing for since he was 17.
“I always kind of had an interest in coaching,” said Sexton, who grew up and played minor hockey in Ottawa and junior in eastern Ontario before he headed west to join the Vees.
“If there was a drill I liked, I’d write it down. If there was a pre-game speech or theme to it, I’d write it down.”
Sexton said he paid particular attention to the relationships his coaches forged with their players, how they managed challenges and adversity together, as well as recognized effort and achievement.
Those studies continued when he moved on to the University of Wisconsin to play for the renowned Badgers hockey team and get a degree in communication arts.
Sexton said honesty and open lines of communication are the traits he plans to bring to the Express dressing room.
“I won’t play mind games with players,” he said. “All I ever asked for is that I knew where I stood whether I wanted to hear it or not.”
Express general manager Tali Campbell said once he’d identified Sexton as a desirable candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy created when former coach Brandon Shaw unexpectedly resigned to become an assistant coach for the Niagara Ice Dogs in the Ontario Hockey League, his first instinct was to talk to two of the team’s players who’d been acquired by Coquitlam from Penticton last season: Luke Vardy and Trevor O’Brien.
Sexton also came with a glowing recommendation from Harbinson.
“I was obviously delighted to hear what Freddie said about Patrick,” Campbell said. “Sometimes you get coaches in our league who play minor roles in programs, but he was a big factor of [the Vees’] program.”
Sexton ran the defence in Penticton, as well its penalty kill. He was also responsible for pre-scouting upcoming opponents on video and helping construct the game plan with Harbinson.
Off the ice, he coordinated billets for the players.
“It was a great opportunity for me to get my feet wet in all sorts of different areas and learn on the fly,” Sexton said.
In Coquitlam, Sexton said he’s looking to create a team built on speed and structure.
“I want our players to be confident to make plays,” he said. “I don’t want us to be a trap and dump-and-chase team.”
With a foundation of returning veterans like Ray Hamlin and Vardy to build upon the success the Express found through the second half of the 2021–22 season, which propelled the team into the BCHL playoffs where they pushed to Chilliwack Chiefs to seven games before being eliminated, Campbell has been busy filling out the roster.
He recently acquired defensemen Michael Rubin from the Des Moines Buccaneers of the US Hockey League (USHL), who will help fill the void left by the departure of veteran blueliner Matthew Campbell.
Gavin Giesbrecht has also been signed out of the Canadian School Sport Hockey League, while defensemen Ian Devlin was named captain for the coming season.
“I just really think everything this year is rolling in the right way,” Campbell said.
It’s up to Sexton to mesh all the moving parts.
“I believe the team will always come first,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having a group of young men that all want to be here, want to win, and want to do it together.”
The Express plays its first preseason game on Saturday, 7 p.m., at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex, against the Surrey Eagles.
Other preseason games are:
- Wed., Sept. 7 Langley Rivermen at Coquitlam Express 7 p.m. Poirier
- Thur., Sept. 8 Coquitlam Express at Surrey Eagles 7 p.m. South Surrey Arena
- Friday, Sept. 9 Surrey Eagles at Coquitlam Express. 7 p.m. Port Moody Recreation Complex
- Sat., Sept. 10. Coquitlam Express at Langley Rivermen 7:15 p.m. George Preston Arena
- Mon., Sept. 12 Coquitlam Express at Surrey Eagles 3 p.m. South Surrey Arena