NANAIMO — The Buccaneers have come a long way and so has their head coach.
Dan Lemmon, 30, was named the VIJHL Coach of the Year prior to his Buccaneers (30-15-0-1) defeating the Oceanside Generals 4-2, on Thursday night at the Nanaimo Ice Centre.
Winning the honour seemed like a longshot back in October after the young Bucs struggled out of the gate with a painful 5-win, 9-loss start.
Then they caught fire and have a franchise-best 30 wins with two more regular season games left on the schedule.
“It's probably my funnest year as a head coach,” Lemmon reflected. “The kids in the room are tremendous, there has been hardly any disciplinary stuff that I've had to deal with this season. Everyone comes with a smile on their face to work hard, we've got a group that wants to get better.”
Lemmon, who's in his second season as Bucs' head coach, said he owes the Coach of the Year Award to a strong supporting cast around him.
“My assistant coaches this year are three of my really close friends, it makes it fun coming to the rink early in the morning, it makes it fun coming to the rink for games and road trips,” he said. “The support of Phil and Brenda Levesque is present every day, they are great owners.”
Lemmon fell into coaching after his junior hockey career came to an end. He said he was asked by close friend Steve Parsons to be an assistant coach for the North Island Silvertips (BCMML). He spent three seasons there, including one as their head coach.
“I learned a lot from him,” Lemmon said of former Silvertips head coach Steve Parsons. “You learn how to make your kids play hard and to motivate the guys and find ways to connect with everyone.”
Lemmon said he takes pride in learning strengths and weaknesses of all of his players to help them maximize their abilities. But he noted that his ability to help players improve doesn't mean anything if they aren't receptive and willing to put the work in.
“It takes a good group of kids and that's the main thing,” said Lemmon. “You got to have kids that want to learn and get better, I'm just fortunate that I'm in that position with this team this year.”
It was fitting that Lemmon was honoured as the league's top coach in a game versus the Oceanside Generals. Lemmon spent three seasons as a top defenceman for the Generals before graduating to the BCHL's Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Lemmon also got his first Junior hockey coaching position with Oceanside in a brief tenure two seasons ago.
Buccaneers owner Phil Levesque said Lemmon is a strong communicator who gets the most out of his players by connecting with them.
“He's a players coach...he gives them heck, but he relates to them...he's just awesome with the kids,” Levesque said.
Lemmon will attempt to guide the Buccaneers to their first ever VIJHL championship in the franchises five year history. That quest starts at the Nanaimo Ice Centre on Thursday, Feb. 23. in game one of a best-of-seven season series versus the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.