Portage College Voyageurs’ Head Coach Kevin McClelland has always believed in getting the most out of his players – but also in helping them get the most out of their hockey and educational careers.
Towards the end of the ACAC hockey season, we sat down with the former NHL player to get his take on the importance of creating the right environment for young athletes to flourish.
McClelland had a long and successful career as a hockey player, winning four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers and playing 588 games in the NHL. He was determined to continue his involvement in the game after retirement.
“At the end of the hockey journey I wasn’t going to pick up a pen,” he says “I kept the stick in my hand.”
Coaching was old hat for him by the time he joined Portage College Athletics in 2019, having coached in the WHL, CHL and ECHL prior to his arrival in Lac La Biche, and he threw himself into the role with enthusiasm. Over the years, he has helped countless young players develop their skills and achieve their dreams of playing at the next level.
In January 2023, McClelland helped forward Spencer Kennedy get signed on to the Southern Professional Hockey League with the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs and goalie Jacob Gnidziejko to the Federal Prospects Hockey League with the Delaware Thunder. McClelland has long-standing connections in the NHL and other professional leagues, and is always willing to make a call on his players' behalf.
“First and foremost, you want to send a good person there,” he says. “You never want to send a bad person there and then all of a sudden that connection is no longer there.”
When asked about the traits he looks for in a player, McClelland emphasized the importance of work ethic and character. Skill is important, of course, but without those intangibles, a player is unlikely to succeed.
McClelland's own experiences as a player have influenced the way he treats his athletes. He had a difficult time in Pittsburgh as a young player, and he knew firsthand how a negative environment could hurt a player's development.
“I was 19 in Pittsburgh and didn't really have a great experience there… The coach told me I should go back to my hometown, be a plumber.” he says. “I always want to provide the environment where guys come in and have some fun, play the game, learn and grow as individuals. But you can't do it if it's a negative environment.”
When he became a coach, he made it a priority to create a positive atmosphere where his players could thrive.
As a college coach, McClelland feels a great deal of pressure to perform, but also believes in doing what is best for his players. When a couple of his players decided to leave to pursue their personal goals, he supported them and wished them well.
“I'd like them to finish their schooling obviously and get what they came here for,” he says. “I think that's [the] number one thing, and then chase your dreams after that.”
Brothers, Brody Dale and Brayden Dale with Coach Kevin McClelland during a Voyageurs' practice.
Overall, McClelland is a dedicated and passionate coach who has helped many young players achieve their dreams. His emphasis on work ethic and character, his commitment to creating a positive environment, and his willingness to support his players in pursuing their goals are all key to his success as a coach.
One player who stood out to McClelland was Scott Hartnell, whom he coached as a 16-year-old. Hartnell went on to become the youngest player in the NHL (2000-01 season) for the Nashville Predators, and he credited Coach McClelland with being the most influential coach he has ever had.
In an article from the Prince Albert Daily Herald (March 13, 2018), Hartnell was asked what the best thing he learned while in Prince Albert.
“Coach McClelland, when he was there, was amazing for me. To learn from a guy that played so many years in the NHL and won Stanley Cups,” Hartnell said. “He was big in my development as a player on and off the ice. It just was an amazing time in my childhood.”
McClelland will have 12 new players join the Portage College Voyageur men’s hockey team for the fall of 2023.
“I like to always have a real positive environment for these guys. Somewhere they like to come.” Said McClelland.
If you’re a student looking to be recruited to the Voyageurs Men’s Hockey team, head to the website and fill out a recruitment form.
Jaime Davies, Corporate Communications Manager
780-623-5581 or email