Michael Hengen is making a step he hopes takes him closer to coaching in the National Hockey League.
Hengen, 26, is leaving his post as assistant coach of the Penticton Vees to join the Prince George Cougars in the WHL as assistant/strength and conditioning coach, according to the Cougars’ website. The Vees announced the move on Friday, while also promoting assistant coach Steve Cawley to assistant general manager and having Travis Deaust oversee the scouting department as Tom Hengen also leaves.
The Cougars contacted Michael Hengen two weeks ago asking if he was interested in a position. Hengen also spoke with Cougars coach Mark Holick, who is from Penticton, and interim general manager Todd Harkins.
“This was a step that I needed to take with coaching,” said Hengen.”Having played in the WHL before I played for (Vees coach-GM) Fred (Harbinson) in 2007/08. If there was ever an opportunity to move on, I had always known in the back of my mind that would have been probably the best option for me.”
“Mike is a very hard-working, loyal, and trustworthy individual who comes from a winning program,” said Holick in a team statement. “I’ve known Mike for quite some time, and I’m impressed with his ideas and his coaching style. I look forward to seeing our defencemen continue to develop under his watch.”
Hengen said coaching in Penticton was “absolutely unbelievable and I wouldn’t trade it for the world” and thanked the fans and the community for their support for him and his wife, Melody, adding they will always have Penticton in their hearts.
Hengen, who played 226 games for five WHL teams, said it’s a situation he couldn’t refuse.
“For my development as a coach, I think this is an outstanding new challenge for myself and my family,” he said, adding that his wife has a new job lined up with RBC Bank, her current employer.
What excites Hengen is the young defencemen he gets to work with.
“There is no secret under old ownership their hockey club hadn’t done as well as they wanted to,” he said. “Now with the new ownership group and their commitment to detail and their commitment to developing the new players and with this stable of young defenceman I’m going to have to work with, is an unbelievable opportunity.”
Hengen said he grew as a coach with the Vees because of his relationship with Harbinson, the Vees’ coach and GM and the trust given to him. Hengen said that showed in the development of their defence and the talent they recruited gave him the opportunity to succeed.
“I’m very thankful for it and to work with those kinds of kids,” he said. “I know myself how to develop these players and it’s imperative that I approach it with the same amount of professionalism and work ethic.”
Helping the Vees win the 2012 RBC Cup is a highlight for Hengen, but so was every August when a new season approached and knowing there was a chance to win another championship. Being part of that culture and the opportunity to coach alongside Harbinson, that demeanor and mindset, Hengen said is something he will take with him.
Harbinson said the organization is grateful for the contributions made to the Vees by the Hengen’s.
“Both have been instrumental in the success of our program and I feel very fortunate to have worked alongside both of them,” said Harbinson, adding that Mike and Tom had family on their mind when making their decisions.
“I believe family is extremely important. Tom stepping down to enjoy more time with his wife Linda and Mike’s move to Prince George allows him to continue his bright coaching career with the Cougars at a very positive time in their organization’s history,” said Harbinson.
As a player, Hengen won a Fred Page Cup with the Vees in 2008, before moving into the coaching ranks in 2010.
Harbinson said the promotion of Cawley will make for a seamless transition.
“Steve has put in countless hours for our organization over the past four seasons and really stepped forward when I took on the role of team president. Steve is one of the most detailed conscious people I know and very deserving of this promotion.”
With Hengen leaving the scouting department, Harbinson believes the Vees scouting department is in very capable hands under Deaust.
“Travis has worked on our scouting staff for the past two seasons. He has a strong eye for talent, a tireless work ethic and understands what it takes to be a successful player at this level and more importantly a Vee.”
The search for a new assistant coach begins immediately.