On Sept. 5, 2022 the Summerland Steam announced the hiring of Alyssa MacMillan as their new Assistant Coach and Director of Marketing and Advertising. MacMillan is the lone female coach in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and the first female coach in the league.
In the Steam release, MacMillan joins the hockey club after an illustrious playing career that took her overseas to Sweden to play professionally. She played at Okanagan Hockey Academy through her U18 years, and university hockey at the University of North Dakota, and the University of Ottawa Gee Gees. She also coached at OHA with the Female Varsity team.
“Alyssa brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and energy to the rink, and will be a big part of the team’s philosophy of development,” said the Steam.
The KIJHL connected with Alyssa to find out what it has been like working with the Steam in her roles. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KIJHL: What has it been like working as an assistant coach so far at the junior hockey level?
AM: I think it’s been a really good experience, definitely different than I have ever had before, coaching boys. It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things that the women’s game has that the men’s game doesn’t and vice versa. It’s been good to see the difference and obviously at the junior level, it’s a good level of hockey so it’s fun to coach.
KIJHL: Talk about the work that you do with the players?
AM: I’m mostly running the defence, but Head Coach & GM Mark MacMillan and I share opinions on everything. I’m bringing the women’s side of the game into it with little details like stick on puck, and using your stick. I find that women are using their sticks more because they can’t use their bodies and that’s a big thing that I have tried to bring – realizing that if you have a stick on a puck, you are taking away five feet of space. A lot of the players in our league are so fast and that’s a big opportunity to take that space away from them.
The KIJHL is also a pretty physical league and I don’t want to take that away from players, it’s more just adding that onto the game that they already know. We have some pretty big bodies on the backend and guys who like to hit and I want them to still play their game, but it’s more just broadening their tool box.
KIJHL: How much does your experience from being an assistant coach with the OHA help you now?
AM: A lot. When I was at OHA, I got the opportunity to coach with Tomas Pacina (has been a NHL skills coach with the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens) for a couple months and I learned more from him about hockey than I did some years of playing. That was really cool. I think even being at OHA with all the experienced people and those with NHL backgrounds, I just learned a lot. My playing experience I brought into coaching and especially with my brother, it’s been fun. It’s nice to be coaching with your brother, because if you disagree, you have to battle it out, instead of being scared to disagree with your head coach.
KIJHL: When did getting into coaching interest you?
AM: When I got back from Sweden, (Okanagan Hockey Academy President) Andy Oakes approached me about coaching at OHA. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I hadn’t finished my degree. I wanted to stay in the game and that was the only way. I really enjoyed sharing my experience as I made it to the levels I wanted to. Being able to share that with the girls at OHA, helps them realize that there are going to be bumps in your career and you can still get to where you want to get to.
KIJHL: You’re the only female coach in the KIJHL, and the first. What do you think of that?
AM: I think it’s pretty cool and just another step in the women’s game coming into the men’s game. Even the NHL is hiring a lot more female coaches, more female scouts. You are seeing a lot more female representation in the male game and that is good to bring into B.C. too. It’s a step in the right direction of bringing females into the mens side.
KIJHL: Do you draw inspiration from other women who are earning opportunities to coach in their respective sports?
AM: Yeah, I think that’s cool. I know Hayley Wickenheiser is working in Toronto (Assistant General Manager & Player Development) and Jessica Campbell is the first female Assistant Coach with Coachella Valley in the American Hockey League. I coached with her at OHA. Seeing all these people is inspiring, especially to see more women in the men’s game.
KIJHL: With you now getting an opportunity to coach at the junior level, do you see yourself as eventually being an inspiration to the younger generation coming up?
AM: Yeah, I’d hope so. I think being in Penticton, I was the only female that went NCAA Division 1. I think it’s cool that girls in Penticton can see that you can do that, same with coaching. There’s little girls behind the Summerland bench that wave to me. I think that is cool. It doesn’t matter your gender. I hope I’m an inspiration to kids, even boys. Sarah Nurse and Trevor Zegras on the cover of NHL 23. She said it’s even cooler to see the little boys say, oh you’re famous. You’re on the NHL cover. It’s being an inspiration to everyone.
KIJHL: You recently played pro hockey in Sweden, how much of your playing experience helps you?
AM: I think a lot. Personally, it just helped me grow as a person and gave me a lot of confidence. I spent a lot of time making friends and being alone at the start and I didn’t speak the same language. I had to put myself out there to get to where I wanted to be. It was a little bit more physical there and they are actually the first league this year implementing hitting into women’s hockey. It’s the first league ever. I’m trying to bring my knowledge and experience into the boys game and that league helped me a lot with figuring out how to explain it more. That league helped me a lot to explain things to the players easier.
KIJHL: What have you enjoyed most about your role so far?
AM: It has been really fun coaching with my brother. The group of guys we have has made it really enjoyable and they are so young they are just sponges taking in everything that we’re saying. Even guys from the first game are totally different players now watching them adapt to the league as they take what we are saying and putting it into use. I think it’s really cool to see other players start to grow into their own game.
KIJHL: What did you study in school?
AM: I did biomedical science for my first couple years, then changed course as I didn’t want to do that. I ended up with a marketing and business degree.
KIJHL: Along with being an Assistant Coach, what do you do as Director of Marketing and Advertising for the Steam?
AM: I’ve been trying to do the Summerland Steam social media to get my marketing going. Canadian Tire takes up a lot of my time doing a lot of office work and paperwork, learning my parents’ roles in the company.
We are trying to get some sponsors going right now and bridge some gaps that weren’t there the last couple of seasons. Just getting businesses involved and we want to be way more involved in the community. We have the players out, we had them out for the food bank drive, and they were out at Play On all day in Kelowna.
It’s easier to get support when you are advertising the players. It’s nice to put some faces to names. They can introduce themselves to hopefully some new fans and we’ve had quite a bit more fans this year.