New Victoria Royals coach comes full circle

The new head coach of the Victoria Royals is a man for all seasons and all settings. Dan Price is a lawyer by training, Western Hockey League coach by vocation and surfer by inclination and spirit. His favourite film is A River Runs Through It, “because it’s about family, friends and how they relate.” The band that has touched him the most is the Tragically Hip.

He is as comfortable in his home province of Alberta as he is in a wetsuit with a board under his arm in Tofino: “I love it all, including the two-step and the [Calgary] Stampede. My tastes are diverse. I love running, hiking, surfing and golf, so the Island is also a perfect place for me.”

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Price graduated from the University of Saskatchewan law school in 2001, was called to the bar in Alberta in 2002, and began practising.

“I never thought I would leave the law,” said Price, a single 42-year-old from St. Albert.

But he was always an athlete, and that sporting drive never left him.

He was a goaltender in his playing days with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the B.C. Hockey League and Fort St. John Huskies of the Rocky Mountain Junior League before playing in U Sports for the University Regina Cougars from 1995 to 1998.

“I loved the competition, strategy and preparation involved with being a lawyer,” said Price.

“It hit me one day that I liked that about the courtroom because I liked that about hockey. And I decided I enjoyed it more in an athletic context than I did in a courtroom context. I liked the law, but I loved hockey. If you can have a career you love, it’s better than having a career you like.”

Price turned his back on what looked to be the start of a promising and stable law career as a civil litigator in Calgary and turned to the most unstable and itinerant profession there is — coaching sports for a living, in which you are only as good as your last winning season.

Asked if he brings a lawyer’s mind to coaching, Price answered: “I hope so, because both are about planning, preparation, organization and articulating an idea clearly. When you are arguing before a judge, you have to spot the issue, take all the clutter and noise away from around it, and pare it down to that issue. Coaching is much the same.”

Price’s coaching journey began where it has led him back to now. Price has a deeper connection to the Royals franchise than most fans realize. He was an assistant coach under Jim Hiller for the first three seasons in franchise history, after it was founded in 2006, and when it was located in Chilliwack and known as the Bruins. Hiller (now assistant coach in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs) and equipment manager Matt Auerbach had come across to Chilliwack from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the B.C. Hockey League. They were all starting out together in the Fraser Valley on a new project — Hiller, Auerbach, Price and the Bruins.

The franchise moved to the Island and became the Victoria Royals in 2011-12 after five seasons operating in Chilliwack. Coming back across the strait with the Bruins and soon-to-be Royals was Auerbach. That would prove a key connection at the beginning of last season when Royals general manager Cameron Hope was looking for someone to vouch for Price to fill an opening on the Royals bench as assistant coach. Price was in U Sports at the time with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and jumped at the chance to apply for the Royals assistant coach job that he eventually landed.

“In many ways, I’ve come full circle back to this franchise,” said Price.

“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Matty [Auerbach] for making the suggestion and telling [Hope] that the Royals can have trust in me,” Price said.

So now he takes over the main Royals bench role from Dave Lowry, who became assistant coach of the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League, after guiding the Royals to a regular-season overall record of 199-112-22 in his five years on the Victoria bench as the winningest coach in franchise history.

Price served last season as Lowry’s assistant and it was enough to make a lasting impact: “Dave and I are different in style, but I learned so much from him. Dave is very intense and leads a whole group with his presence. That is an attribute unique to him. That is not my personality as much. I have to work harder at individual connections and to break things down and explain them to players.”

But in strategy, both Price and Lowry are of one mind.

“In terms of on-ice fundamentals, we don’t differ much,” Price said. There is such a thing as Royals hockey, he said.

“You are still going to see a Royals team that plays fast in every direction, which is what [Lowry] preached. We are going to believe in our fitness and conditioning and play fast and pressure opponents,” said Price.

“I am very similar to Dave in that regard. The pace of play will be rapid and the tempo high. We will attack defensively, as well as offensively.”

There is another thing Price took away from watching Lowry last season: “Dave believes in trust and loyalty. He is a tremendously loyal person to his players and staff and protects his team. That stayed with me.”

That the Royals stayed in-house, opting for continuity in selecting their new head coach, speaks volumes.

“I was tremendously grateful to be considered for the role. This organization has empowered me,” Price said.

Price has also served two seasons as assistant coach of the Tri-City Americans of the WHL from 2012-14 and was a scout for the WHL’s Regina Pats. He has international experience as assistant coach with silver-medallist Team Pacific at the 2009 World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Price did double duty as head coach and general manager of the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League from 2009 to 2012.

Price, however, has no WHL head-coaching experience. But that did not deter Hope.

“It kept coming back to Price … the candidate that fit best was right under our nose,” said Hope, when he made the announcement in June.

“He essentially had a year-long audition and ticked all the right boxes for us. You often hear that people are overdue. That can be said for Dan Price.”

The choice of Price as his successor in Victoria came with Lowry’s blessing.

“The biggest change is that you go from being an assistant coach, with a particular area of responsibility and narrow focus, to moving up to head coach and having to see everything for the whole group through a big-picture lens,” said Price.

Price was winless as a head coach at 0-2-1 when Lowry missed three games due to being quarantined with the mumps last season. Price’s first crack at his first WHL regular-season victory as head coach comes Friday night when the Royals open the 2017-18 season against the Vancouver Giants at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

Price is the third head coach of the Royals since the franchise has been on the Island. Marc Habscheid was the first bench boss in Victoria, a holdover from Chilliwack days, and went 24-41-7 in 2011-12 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to Kamloops. Habscheid was replaced the next season by Lowry, who not only left Victoria after five seasons as the all-time winningest coach in franchise history, but was twice named WHL coach of the year. The Royals never missed the playoffs under Lowry, although they never progressed past the second round. He was also assistant coach, winning gold, and head coach, placing sixth, with Canada’s national junior team during his tenure with the Royals.

“[Lowry] is highly intelligent with a sophisticated sense of humour,” said Price.

“From him I learned to value preparation, organization, relationships and about trust and mutual respect.”

Soft-spoken and analytical, Price is a big believer in utilizing all the modern technology available to coaches.

“I love video analysis. It is extremely valuable,” he said.

“Physiological technology is also a big asset. Technology is a huge asset as a whole, as long as it is working for you, and you not working for it. It can create clutter if you don’t pare out all its extraneous elements and only convey the most important information to a player or to the team. Technology must be clean and clear.”

Doug Bodger from Chemainus, who played in more than 1,000 NHL games, will go from being a Royals part-time assistant coach last season to full-time assistant coach under Price.

Bodger is self-described old school, but looking forward to the new journey he and Price have embarked on with the rest of the Royals coaching staff.

“It’s different than the old days. High tech is the way to go now,” said Bodger.

“[Price’s] mind is working all the time. He cares about, studies and tracks the game. He takes in everything.”

But Price is far from a hockey technocrat.

“Dan cares about the players and the game and is dedicated to what he’s doing,” added Bodger, who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks.

“And I’ve learned a few things about the game in my NHL playing career, and there are little things I can see. We are going to learn off each other.”

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