The managing partners of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s OCN Blizzard clearly knew what they were doing when they hired free agent Billy Keane to fill the role of head coach and general manager back on July 16.
After relieving former head coach/general manager Chris Perchaluk in mid-July, the club that will be celebrating its 25th season in 2020-21 added the well-known junior hockey figure in hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing 2019-20 season. Last year the Blizzard went 17-39-5, putting up just 37 points in 60 games, while finishing second-last, significantly outside the playoff picture.
Just 10 days into his new role, Keane pulled the trigger on a deal that saw the club part with the rights to 2003-born forward Owen Wiehs, in exchange for veteran centreman David Queree and a Player Development Fee from the Steinbach Pistons.
“David is a 6-foot-4, 195-pound, two-way centre who works hard off and on the ice,” Keane said in a Blizzard release. “His attitude and work ethic, along with his leadership will help us regain a winning culture that OCN Blizzard so proudly had.”
Queree, 19, hails from Richmond, BC, but has spent the past two seasons within Manitoba, suiting up in a depth role for the Pistons. He put up seven goals, 20 points and 70 minutes in penalties in 88 regular season games, following two years of Canadian Sport School Hockey League play with the Edge School prep squad in BC.
“I truly enjoyed working with David the past two seasons and watching him grow as a player and person,” said Pistons head coach/GM Paul Dyck in a team-issued press release. “He will be missed; he was a tremendous team guy and came to work every work day. We wish him all the best as he moves on to a new opportunity.”
Following that deal, Keane quickly got the wheels turning on a deal with the Maritime Junior Hockey League’s Campbellton Tigers. The following day, the Blizzard sent Quebec-born forward Tobias Commanda-Odjick out East, in exchange for 2001-born defenceman Thomas Dodds, as well as a Player Development Fee.
Dodds, 19, is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound blueliner that has bounced around five different leagues the past four seasons. Splitting the 2019-20 season between the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Blind River Beavers and the MJAHL’s Tigers, Dodds collected three assists and eight penalty minutes in 49 total regular season games.
Two days later, OCN announced a third deal which saw forward Kobe Campbell shipped to the Waywayseecappo Wolverines for a Player Development Fee. Although cutting costs in all three deals, Keane knew that the option to bring back 18 of the members of the 2019-20 squad was not a desirable one, so deals have been made. Between the end of July and the start of the 2020-21 MJHL season, a new-look, OCN Blizzard squad is expected to emerge from the league’s cellar, led by the new coach/manager.
Keane, 57, opted to take in the 2019-20 MJHL season from the sidelines, cutting ties with the Winnipeg Blues following the ownership change last offseason. His coaching experience includes 11 years as an assistant with the University of Manitoba Bisons before another 11 seasons within the MJHL. This is his second shared head coach/GM position.