CARROT RIVER — It was a whirlwind week for Tisdale’s Darrell Mann and the Carrot River Outback Thunder.
On Sept. 27, the Prairie Junior Hockey League squad announced that new head coach Rob Holoien was stepping down due to personal reasons.
Two days later the Outback Thunder revealed that Mann – the former bench boss of the Tisdale Trojans and Melfort Mustangs – had been tabbed to lead the Junior B club.
On Oct. 1, the Outback Thunder opened the season with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Saskatoon Royals on the road. The next night the team fell 6-5 in overtime to the Saskatoon Westleys at home.
“We’ve only been together, I guess, for four days … A lot of adversity for these young hockey players to face and for them to be able to get three out of a possible four points this weekend I think was really remarkable,” Mann said.
After parting ways with the Trojans in 2019 following guiding the U18 AAA squad to the bronze medals at that year’s Telus Cup national championship, Mann stepped away from hockey for a couple seasons to focus on his family and other things. He said he had “zero interest” in coaching until the Outback Thunder reached out last week.
“It seemed like something that would be a good fit,” Mann said. “After the two hockey games, I’m definitely excited that I was given this opportunity by the executive of Carrot River. I’m looking forward to the season.”
He is pleased to be leading a team backed by the Carrot River community.
“Carrot River is a great town. A great supporter of all sports,” said Mann, a Sylvania product. “I’ve grown up my whole life playing against them. I really like that support part that you get out of their town. … They just built a new dressing room there for these players. It’s something they take a lot of pride in.”
In Mann’s first game leading the Outback Thunder, Lee Burt scored in overtime to deliver the coach his first PJHL victory. The head coach said he leaned on assistant coach Kolton Holmen, who described as a “great hockey mind,” during the opening weekend. With three practices this week, Mann hopes to get to know the players better and to instill some of his beliefs and systems.
The coach is certainly familiar with some of his current players. David Wiens, Kalen Ukrainetz, Zac Robins, and Tanner Martin all competed for him on the Trojans.
“I know a lot of the Saskatchewan kids and some of the out of province ones came in and have ben a real pleasant surprise,” he said. “I like their work ethic. I think we have a lot of skill and a lot of speed.”
Wiens, for one, is pleased to have Mann back coaching him.
“Just his knowledge of the game and the way he runs his teams is going to help our team so much and put us up there in the league, if not the best team in the league,” Wiens said. “For myself I’m really looking forward to playing Manner’s style again and get back into that winning mentality.”
Mann has coached at a wide variety of levels of hockey. Regarding the junior level, he said he enjoys the maturity of the players.
“Lots of them it’s their last kick at playing hockey. … You’re not just shaping hockey players, you’re shaping guys who are going to be moving into the work force. You are trying to get that work ethic instilled into them.”
In two different stints, Mann was with the Trojans for a total of 16 years. In his first stint, he led the club to a 2002 Telus Cup national championship. In the finals, the Tisdale team downed a Dartmouth Subways squad featuring a talented 14-year-old Sidney Crosby. In his second time around with the Trojans, Mann led the squad to the league finals in 2016 and 2017. He spent seven years leading the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Melfort Mustangs. He coached in the North East Wolfpack U15 AA program between his time in Melfort and with the Trojans.
“The Thunder are very excited to continue the season with an elite level coach at the helm,” a press release from the Outback Thunder stated. “Darrell’s wealth of knowledge, experience, values, and systems will continue to push the Thunder organization to the top where they aim to be. Darrell’s resume does not only consist of experience at high levels but includes numerous winning seasons and championships to go alongside the experience.”