Dallyn Telford is preparing for his first full season as head coach of the Orillia Terriers.
Last season, Telford made his debut with the Terriers as an assistant coach, but an unexpected wrench was thrown into the team’s plans when then-head coach Nick Ricca resigned in mid-November.
Telford took over the reins and led the Terriers to the playoffs, compiling a 19-19-1-3 record.
The opportunity to become the head coach was in no way overwhelming, but rather the opportunity he had waited for his whole life.
“It’s been a pretty big goal in my life to coach junior in my hometown and it doesn’t happen very often,” Telford, 42, said.
“I’ve coached other places, but to be able to do it in your hometown where you played and know a lot of people is pretty special. So, when it fell on my shoulders, I welcomed the opportunity.”
Telford was born in Halliburton and moved to Orillia when he was seven after his father, who worked for the OPP, was transferred.
Telford spent most of his youth playing hockey in the city that became his hometown.
“I remember playing at the community centre. There was nothing quite like jumping on the ice in that old building,” Telford reflects.
Telford briefly wore an Orillia Terriers sweater, suiting up in a few Jr. A games on a fill-in basis. But he spent most of his junior playing days with the Jr. C team in Midland. Telford played his final year of junior in 1996.
“There comes a day when you realize you’re not going to be a player, but you want to stay in the game,” Telford explains.
“I progressed from coaching 8-9-year-olds to the midget level, to the AAA level, and it just kept going.”
Telford would go on to spend time coaching the Midland Flyers Junior C team, and then coached and served as general manager of the Muskoka team in the independent junior league for the better part of nine years.
But he says the most meaningful opportunity is right in front of him.
“To be able to coach the highest level team in my hometown is such an honour to me. So when they asked me to be on board it was a no brainer,”
Being a head coach comes with great responsibility, making sure your team is prepared on the ice. However, Telford says being a coach today often involves preparing the players for what’s ahead off the ice.
“I think it's our job, especially with this age group, to prepare them for life,” said Telford, who works with his brother at Telford Property Management, where he cuts grass and plows snow.
“The kids are at a critical stage in life where they are in school and trying to decide on a career and before long it will be family and I try to prepare them for that.”
Telford’s is realistic in his approach.
“None of these guys are going to play in the NHL, and they know that,” said Telford. “But they still play at a decent level of hockey and want to win, so I think success in hockey can easily translate to success in life,” he said.
“I’ve always coached with an open door and I get that the players have other things going on in life. There’s school, there’s girls, there’s work, so you can’t run a hockey team like it’s the military anymore,” he explained. “You have to be able to relate to them.”
Telford also believes that coaching the Terriers comes with a responsibility to build spirit around the local hockey community.
“Junior hockey is so important to a small town. The relationship our guys have with the Orillia minor hockey kids is special,” Telford said.
Telford spent many years coaching in the Orillia Minor Hockey Association (OMHA), from levels of house league to rep at all different age groups. That experience has opened up his eyes to what the junior team means to the local kids.
“I knew when I coached Orillia minor hockey that a lot of kids had the goal of one day walking into the big Terriers dressing room as a player, and being a part of it,” he explained.
“So I think the relationship we have with the community is huge,” he said. “We bring the kids in the locker room and they get excited to sit in Kyle Heitzner’s stall under his nameplate and they think it’s the best thing in the world, so we hope we can fuel them even a little bit to carry on and keep playing hockey.”
Last season, Telford was asked to speak to a couple of OMHA teams, something he says is a huge honour for him.
“Since Day One, I had an understanding that this is what junior hockey is all about. It’s so important to give back,” he said.
As Telford prepares his team on and off the ice for the upcoming season, he expects to face challenges in his first full season as head coach.
“I’ve never seen a championship hockey team not go through adversity, and I’m sure this year’s team will face adversity as well,” he explains.
“Above our locker room door, the last thing we see before taking the ice is a slogan that reads ‘united in adversity.’ We have to stay together through highs and through lows."
Telford says the expectation for this season is no less than a division title, and a championship would be sweeter to win in Orillia than anywhere else.
“Orillia is a special place for hockey. It’s been 35 years since the Travelways won the Centennial Cup,” he recalled of that national title-winning team. “If we can generate some excitement for this city and get deep into the playoffs that would be special,” he said.
“There is a buzz around town. We are going to have a good team this year. We are excited to get going."
Telford’s first full season behind the bench as head coach begins Sept. 14 when the Terriers host the Caledon Golden Hawks in their home opener: 7:30 p.m. at Rotary Place.