Originally published in the Kindersley Clarion (August 14, 2013)
Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Justin Coachman started playing hockey at an early age just like many of his other Kindersley Klipper compadres.
“I started played when I was two,” said the 6-foot, 202-pound defenceman. “My dad got me into it…I lived in an apartment complex that was literally a minute down the road from the rink. My dad played men’s league there so he got me into it and I loved it right from the start.”
Having jumped into hockey at such a tender age in Rochester, you might expect Coachman to name his favourite NHL player or idol as someone such as Brian Gionta or Ryan Callahan, two of the more successful NHLers to come from the area. You might even venture to guess he would name one of Pat Lafontaine or Phil Housley — arguably two of the greatest Buffalo Sabres of all-time — as one of his favourite players. If you went either of those routes you would be wrong.
As a stay-at-home defenceman who prioritizes responsible play in his own end, Coachman instead idolized one of the greatest shot-blocking defencemen of all-time — Jay McKee.
“I wish he was still playing because not many defencemen were like him,” Coachman said. “(I) just try to play my defensive end first, not do anything fancy with the puck…That’s what he did.”
Coachman’s rough-and-tumble, defence-first game brought him north of the border when he joined the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL for the start of the 2012-13 season. According to Coachman, playing in Canada was something he always hoped and planned on doing.
“I didn’t want to end up somewhere in Ontario,” Coachman said. “I wanted to go farther west. It’s better hockey over there.
“I wanted to play good junior A hockey. I didn’t want to stay out east in the EJ (Eastern Junior Hockey League) or anything like that because it’s just not my type of game. The West Coast hockey definitely fit me a lot better.”
Apart from being a stay-at-home, responsible blueliner, Coachman has a bit of a mean streak on the ice, something that earned him a quick reputation upon his arrival in Kindersley. One incident in particular from Coachman’s time in Victoria brought fast-spreading chatter.
“When I first I got Kindersley everybody else was asking me about it too and a lot of rumours were spread about it,” Coachman said as he laughed.
As the rumour goes, some eye-witnesses suggest Coachman jumped into the bench of an opponent at the end of a game.
“What really happened was we were playing the Cowichan Valley Capitals,” Coachman said. “They were our rivals over there and we just beat them. At the end of the game some of their guys attacked some of our guys. We were getting out-numbered down there so I hopped our bench and went over.”
The hulking defenceman left his bench and took care of business on the ice, quickly cleaning up the fray with his own version of vigilante hockey justice. Unfortunately for Coachman, it landed him an eight-game suspension.
“It was for the team,” Coachman said. “I had to do what I had to do.”
After getting into 10 games for the Grizzlies and chalking up one assist to go along with 23 penalty minutes and the brawl, Coachman would be dealt to the Klippers at the Jan. 10, 2013 trade deadline where he would leave an instant impression with head coach/general manager Rockie Zinger and others around the SJHL.
“He is probably the toughest guy in our league,” Zinger said. “He is fearless and he is tough. He’ll fight anybody. When he fights, he hits guys hard and it hurts. In one weekend he made a name for himself in the entire league.”
According to Zinger, the Klippers travelled to Melville to face the Millionaires. In an on-ice altercation, the newly-minted Klipper would knock a Melville player sprawling before taking on the Millionaires enforcer and sending him to the ice with three swift and powerful blows.
“He is a good kid,” Zinger elaborated. “He has good morals. He is your ultimate team guy…Everybody on our team plays a little bit bigger, a little bit tougher because Justin Coachman is there behind them.”
Coachman has since found a home in Kindersley. He finished out the 2012-13 season by getting into 17 regular season games and four playoff games with the Klippers. In 2013-14, Zinger expects Coachman to be a regular fixture on the blueline.
Despite his frightening nature on the ice, Justin Coachman is nothing short of your friendly neighbour off the ice and that has drawn comparisons to another local scrapper with big fists and an even bigger heart.
“Steve (MacIntyre) was one of the nicest people off the ice that you’d every meet,” said Zinger — who played hockey with MacIntyre — as he compared Coachman to the NHL tough guy . “I don’t know particularly if they enjoy it, but they understand that they enjoy the fact they’re sticking up for their teammates and standing for something they believe in because of the greater good of the team.
“That’s exactly what Justin Coachman does.”
And if you ask Justin Coachman, that is exactly who he is.
“On the ice I know what my job is,” Coachman said. “I’m a scary-looking guy as it is. I’m big and I’m tough and I will shove my stick down your throat if I need to and you’re my opponent.
“But off the ice, I’ll buy you a beer in the bar. That’s how I am.”
And that’s how Justin Coachman will continue to be when he returns to Kindersley to play out his final year of junior eligibility with the Klippers. At the age of 20, the gritty defender hopes to land himself an NCAA college scholarship so he can continue to play hockey while obtaining an education at the same time. As of now, his hope is to study sports management.
Until that day comes, Coachman wants to wrap up his junior A career with an RBC Cup championship and if the Klippers are to achieve that, the burly blueliner knows what he needs to contribute.
“If my teammates are getting pushed around, I’m going to do something about it,” Coachman said. “That’s what I’m here for. That’s my job.”
[IMAGE COURTESY OF THE KINDERSLEY KLIPPERS]