Article on new Head Coach Jeff Zehr

Jeff Zehr never completely left hockey, spending time during the past six years coaching his three sons.

But this coming season, the former Port Huron Icehawks forward will be as involved in the sport as he’s been since retiring following the 2008-09 season.

Zehr has been named the coach of the London Lakers, an expansion franchise in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League. Despite the fact it’s an expansion team, Zehr said he wasted no time in telling the team owner he intended to win, and win big.

“What I want to do is, I want to win every year, first of all,” Zehr said. “Second of all, because we’re going to be winning and running a pro development, I want kids to learn what it’s like to be a pro. We want to, obviously, be known as an organization that develops kids on and off the ice.”

Those who know, or remember, Zehr from his playing days in Port Huron wouldn’t be surprised by that enthusiasm and straight-shooting style.

While he was here for just one full season and half of another, Zehr made himself a fan favorite by scoring goals in bunches and not backing down from a physical confrontation. In the 2007-08 season, he had 66 points (33 goals) while amassing 128 penalty minutes in 71 games, helping lead the Icehawks to the Turner Cup Finals.

He was traded to Flint midway through the 2008-09 season, but managed 16 goals, 26 assists and 86 penalty minutes in 49 games.

After his 10th professional season, Zehr called it a career, one that included four games with the NHL’s Boston Bruins in 1999-2000.

Since retiring, Zehr has started his own landscaping business, and has been running from sport to sport with his sons. Recently, he has been working midnights at a factory in Stratford, Ontario.

Also in that time, he joined LinkedIn, and the professional networking site has worked for him. He said that he has been contacted by several teams over the years with coaching opportunities, but none had made sense for Zehr and his family. That was until the London Lakers job came up two weeks ago.

“Everything kind of happened really fast,” Zehr said. “It was like two phone calls and a quick 20-minute meeting. This all happened midweek, and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I was in Burlington scouting some prospects.”

The GMHL is for players ages 16-21, and is pay-to-play. Zehr called it a showcase league.

“There’s no restrictions on imports, so we have kids from all over the world,” Zehr said. “There’s one team in Bradford, the whole team is from Sweden. … Halfway through the year, we have a one-day, two-game prospect tournament, and there’s numerous NCAA teams, different juniors, East Coast (ECHL) and Southern Professional Hockey League scouts that come and watch our kids.

“We practice three times a week, we play two games a week. Kids are on the ice a lot.”

Zehr is still in the process of building a coaching staff, but said he’s been in contact with several former professional players who live in the London area. He hasn’t signed any players, either, but he’s been scouting, and the team will hold a tryout on May 3 at the London Sports Park. Players interested in trying out can find information at http://www.londonlakersjrahockey.ca/.

While Zehr will be developing players for a future in the sport, there’s a chance he may have found a new future in it himself.

“I definitely have the hockey bug in me,” he said. “Since I’ve been done playing, I obviously wanted to coach my kids as much as possible, and I pretty much rotated from one to the other every year. I had some junior opportunities to get into, but they just weren’t right. Now, all of the sudden out of the blue, this just kind of fell into my lap. It feels right and it’s going to be right.”

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