6 with the Tricks: Head Coach Billy McCreary
Welcome back to “Six with the Tricks,” where we get to know the newest Danbury Hat Tricks in six questions.Today, we’re talking with head coach/general manager Billy McCreary! After an eight-year playing career in pro hockey, McCreary is tackling his first professional head coaching job with the Hat Tricks.
Let’s check in with Coach!
Q: So you won the FPHL Commissioner’s Cup in 2012. Your goalie Nick Niedert has won before, your player/coach Nicola Levesque has won before, other leaders and veterans on the roster like Phil Bronner have won before. How invaluable is winning postseason experience at the pro level?
Billy McCreary: Having that experience is key but it’s just another piece to the puzzle. There are moments during the season where that leadership should carry you, sure, but you also need the younger legs to give you some energy and excitement throughout the course of a season. Playoff time is when you really need that leadership to get you through those adverse situations. I think we have a great mix of players here with a strong leadership group. We need to grow as a team and get better every day leading into the playoff stretch. If we do that, we will have put ourselves in a good spot to reach our goal at the end of the year.
Q: You’ve got an impressive hockey lineage in your gene pool to say the least. Were you born with skates on or what? No desire to become a basketball player instead? What’s the coolest piece of memorabilia in the house?
BM: I started skating before 2 years old so I pretty much came out with skates on. Funny you ask, I tried basketball and lacrosse in middle school because my mother’s family was big into basketball, football and lacrosse. I played a full season and scored once in both sports. I finished the season and never went back. From then on I knew I only wanted to play hockey.
As far as hockey memorabilia, it's everywhere so it’s a tough call. I would have to say the Wayne Gretzky signed Edmonton newspaper article that talks about my father knocking out the “Great One” is up there. We also have a painting of Team Canada standing on the blue line for the national anthem during the summit series. J.P. Parise, who was on that team, signed it along with all the other members. It’s pretty special considering that J.P. recruited me to Shattuck St. Mary’s, and how many lessons I learned from him and his family during my time there.
I think my favorite though was recently given to me by my grandfather. He was a member of the inaugural 1967 St. Louis Blues. Three years ago, he and his teammates were honored by the Blues organization. The Blues brought all the players and their families down to see the home opener against the Minnesota Wild. It was a great moment in the game for my grandfather and was pretty neat for me as my former linemate, Zach Parise, was playing against the Blues that night. It was certainly a memorable weekend as we were able to talk with players, coaches, and management from both teams, watch pre-game practice and take in the game from the Blues alumni suite. But what was so special and what was gifted to me by my grandfather was one of the Blues 1967 Varsity Jackets that was given to my grandfather, Bill McCreary, and his teammates who are still here with us today. To be able to wear that in honor of my grandfather and all his teammates is very humbling and a treasure to say the least.
Q: What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received regarding coaching and who gave it to you?
BM: Communication. It was something that was taught to me early on by my father who coached me in youth hockey. But even in junior, college and pro hockey, you learn that at each level, communication becomes even more vital to your success as an individual, and ultimately the team’s success. How you communicate with your players, your staff, your fans, your opponents, your officials...it all plays a part in who you are in the game and what you are doing for the game. At the end of the day, my goal is to instill my passion and knowledge of the game to as many people as I can. The greater understanding we have of the game and how to grow it, the better the game will be at every level.
Q: What’s the hardest part about transitioning from a player to a coach and what are you most looking forward to in your first season behind the bench in Danbury?
BM: The hardest part for me was simply leaving the game as a player. Competing is what I loved to do. I was able to do that with my teammates from when I was 2 years old, until 30 years old. Shutting off that team atmosphere, shutting down that competitive drive, it was extremely hard to do. So I had to completely step away from the game. No men’s league, no open ice, no street hockey; I was done and wasn’t sure what was next. So six months later when I got the call to coach a high school team, I was thrilled. I was back in the locker room, back on the ice, just in a different role. Adapting to roles within a team was a strong suit of mine, one the game taught me through many adverse situations. Thankfully, I was able to pick it up pretty quick and I have been coaching ever since.
It’s hard to pick just one. Being the inaugural season, I am looking forward to training camp. But as I have said previously, it’s a process and I am chomping at the bit to get that process started. Opening night is going to be surreal. To have hockey back in Danbury, to have the expectations we do, plus the overwhelming support of our fans, it's going to be electric. And that’s just the beginning.
Q: Any superstitions? Who’s on the pre-game playlist? Pre-game meal?
My views on superstitions have changed over the years. I was superstitious as a player, but not so much anymore now that I am coaching. The playlist has stayed pretty consistent though, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Eminem, Tupac. Favorite pre-game meal is steak and mashed potatoes.
Q: Favorite player growing up? Any notable jerseys owned?
My two favorite players were Wayne Gretzky and Darcy Tucker. Two completely different players but they explain a lot about who I dreamed of being and who I needed to be as a player. I have a couple signed Toronto Maple Leafs Jerseys and one Team Canada Jersey but I wasn’t big on buying jerseys, I always preferred to earn my own.
You can catch Coach McCreary behind the Hat Tricks' bench Friday, October 25th as Danbury opens their season at home against the Port Huron Prowlers. Season and individual game tickets are now on sale at danburyhattricks.com/tickets.
All photos courtesy of Billy McCreary.