By: Monty Mosher
It's not an accident Marc-André Côté ended up becoming the head coach of the Moncton Aigles Bleues women's hockey team.
After five years as the assistant coach for Denis Ross, Cote was named to the top post this month. He'll leave a career as a teacher in Moncton to take over the hockey team.
Montreal's Côté, 31, was an accomplished forward with the Val-d'Or Foreurs and Acadia-Bathurst Titan, scoring 27 goals in 70 games in his final season in the QMJHL.
After joining the Aigles Bleues for his varsity career, he scored 29 goals over five seasons.
He turned aside a few offers to play professionally in Europe and in the North American minor leagues in favour an offer to teach.
He stumbled into coaching the Moncton women after his playing days ended. The attraction was immediate and lasting. He preferred the way the women approached the game.
"I ended up loving it," he said. "The girls are willing to learn. I love to compare ourselves when I was playing university hockey compared to what the girls are right now. We thought we knew better. But they want to learn, they want to improve their game. That's really fun to work with."
Côté believes the women's game has continued to evolve in every aspect.
"It's growing so quickly. When I started with Denis, I scratched my head at what I would see sometimes. It's really improved and I want to be part of the growth as well."
Moncton finished tied for fourth place in the AUS in 2017-18 with 24 points in 24 games. The team last won a conference title in 2013-14.
Ross was looking to retire and took care preparing Côté for the job.
"The past two or three years he's done a really good job grooming me for the position," Côté said. "I kind of know what to expect. It's been an easy transition."
Côté will need to complete his teaching year before moving all the way into his new duties. It wasn't easy to walk away from his teaching life. "But you can't pass up the opportunity of doing your passion for your career," he said.
And coaching is teaching after all. "This is the best of both worlds for me. I couldn't say no to it."
Like every new AUS coach, the first priority is to make the players understand the expectations for the months and years ahead. The new season begins in September and Côté wants the plans and goals to be clear in everyone's mind.
Recruiting was already done for 2018 with most of the 2019 roster in order as well.
"We are pretty much all set to go," he said. "I'm looking forward to training camp."
Moncton was up and down in 2017-18, but held its own against the top teams in the conference. 'I don't think our record indicated the kind of team we were. November was a horrible month, but close to February we started playing better hockey."
The Aigles Bleues beat Dalhousie in three games to advance to the conference semifinals. They fell in the second round to St. Francis Xavier, losing 2-1 in overtime to close out their season.
Côté's team combined for just 48 goals in 24 regular-season games. Katryne Villeneuve had 12 goals and Marie-Pier Corriveau 10 last season, but the team struggled to put the puck in the net beyond that.
"We're not going to win many games in this league scoring two goals a game," he said. "We'll have to figure out ways to score more goals."
The league will look different in 2018-19 with the revival of a varsity program at UNB. It returns the conference alignment to eight teams with four in New Brunswick.
The regular-season schedule also increases from 24 to 28 games.
"It's great for the league," said Côté. "We're adding new teams. It means more games for the girls to play. I just see this as a good thing. There will be more competition within the province and a renewed rivalry."
The Moncton roster entering next season will consist mostly of third and fourth-year players.
"I'm thinking we should be right up there,' he said of the team's championship prospects. "That obviously is the goal, but it is the same goal for the other seven teams in the league.
"At the end of the day it is going to be what we're going to do that's going to matter. We are who we are. We don't look around and compare ourselves to other teams. We feel comfortable. We feel good with what we have."
Once the puck drops on the new season, Côté will be a hockey rookie one more time. He welcomes it.
"When I was 19 or 20 I was in a meeting with (Val-d'Or coach|) Eric Lavigne. We were discussing a few things about killing penalties and he told me he thought I'd be a good coach later on. At that time I had never thought about it.
"I don't miss playing, but I sure love coaching."