New Preds coach to host series of skates starting
March 15, 2024
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Jay Russ of Dunnville takes over the head coaching job for the Niagara Predators for 2024-2025.

The Niagara Predators have parted ways with Kevin Taylor, the team’s head coach for the past two years. Dunnville native Jay Russ takes over behind the bench for the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League squad. 

It was a tough decision for president and general manager Robert Turnbull to make, as he considers Taylor a close friend. 

“I think Kevin needed a little more experience,” Turnbull tells The Local. “I was hoping that he would have come along a little more quickly. I was on the bench a few times, I watched during practices and games, and I didn’t see the respect from the players that a coach deserves. I think he saw it too.”

The Preds finished in sixth place in the league’s eight-team South Division with a record of 17-21-4. Though they played well in their best-of-three Russell Cup playoff series against the Durham Roadrunners, they were ousted in two straight games.

“We competed very well against the tough teams,” explains Turnbull, “but we didn’t compete against lower-end teams. That had a lot to do with several of the players that we depended on not buying into the program. We had some very good players, we just didn’t have the team all going in the same direction.”

Turnbull, who says he spoke to Taylor as many as three or four times a day during the season, had a lengthy, difficult conversation after the Preds were eliminated, during which he suggested to the 46-year-old Bowmanville, Ontario native that he would benefit from some experience as a head coach for a younger team before taking over another junior-level team.

Reached at his home Thursday, Taylor said he was shocked by Turnbull’s decision and he’s still trying to process the situation. 

“It stings,” said Taylor, “but I wish them the best as they move forward. I know there are a lot of good people in the organization and I know that what Rob has planned will be good for the town and the league. It’s a business, and he has to do what’s best for the longevity of the organization. They need to win now, and they can’t afford to have a coach who is in the early stages of learning.”

Taylor’s replacement, 48-year-old Jay Russ, grew up around the old Dunnville Terriers junior hockey team, owned by his father Jim for about 25 years. He played his minor hockey in the Dunnville system, culminating with a stint with the Terriers at the Junior C level beginning when he was just 14 years old.

After playing for the Terriers, he moved into their coaching ranks, starting as an assistant before being promoted to head coach. He later took on GM duties as well. 

When Russ’ mother Darlene became sick with cancer, Jim sold the team. Around the same time, Russ’ son Jacob began playing minor hockey, so he focused his efforts on coaching in the Dunnville system. 

Most recently, he’s been coaching the Haldimand River Kings U18-A team, on which his 6’2”, 200-pound son has been playing. It was Jacob’s interest in continuing to play hockey that led to Russ’ opportunity to take on coaching duties with the Preds. 

“I inquired about Jacob playing, and how the draft works,” says Russ. “I remembered Rob from when he coached Dundas when I was playing for Dunnville. One thing led to another, he asked me what I was doing, and it kind of grew from there.”

The dispatcher and salesperson for a Stoney Creek trucking company is eager to get started with the Predators. 

“Speed kills,” he says when asked about his coaching philosophy. “I like a big, fast team. Skill levels have to be a bit higher than what they’ve been the last few years. Rob said he wants to put a winner on the ice this year. From what he’s told me he’s bringing in, I think we’ll have that, we’ll push for the title.” 

“He’s had lots of experience,” Turnbull says about Russ. “We had several conversations. I’ve always been about education and development, but I want the coach to coach to win. This year and beyond, it’s all about winning. If the players won’t get with the program, we won’t sign them.”

Russ was busy this week running a three-day 3-on-3 youth hockey tournament in Dunnville, a fundraiser for the town’s minor hockey organization. He says he is eager to get involved in with the NOTL community in the same way, and to put more fans in the stands. 

To get things started, though, Russ is holding four on-ice sessions at Canada Games Park in Thorold for returning Predators and prospective players. 

“Depending on how many guys come out, we’ll possibly do some scrimmages,” he says. “Other than that, we’ll do a lot of fast-paced, simple drills, lots of shots on goal. All drills to get a good look at everybody to figure out who we want to invite to our main camp this summer.”

He admits that junior hockey has come a long way over the last few years as far as skill level, and that he has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to how the league’s upcoming draft works. But he welcomes the new challenge. 

“It’s going to be fun and interesting,” Russ says. “I believe we can put a winner on the ice and challenge to win the league, absolutely.”

The sessions at Canada Games Park are running March 19 at 7:15 p.m. and March 23, 26 and 30, each at 5:15 p.m.