Coaching life is a delicate balance of hockey and more hockey – with family in between.
Kain Tisi works with both Rangers goaltenders during practice twice a week and every game day and then runs skating and development clinics through his goalie school every other available day of the week.
“I love the balance between seeing the top junior level player but also working with kids just starting out and loving what they do. It just reminds me why I’m coaching and what’s important,” said the 34-year-old native of Mississauga.
Tisi started his current coaching role with the Blueshirts at the start of the 2013/14, after the departure of Piero Greco, who is currently with the New York Islanders.
Having played five seasons in the Ontario Junior Hockey League with the Mississauga Chargers, Milton IceHawks and St. Michael’s Buzzers, he went on to play NCAA D1 hockey for the St. Lawrence University Skating Saints. It was there that he would meet general manager and interim head coach Mike McKenzie in 2006.
Tisi transitioned to coaching after playing professionally in the East Coast Hockey League with the Reading Royals.
Having gone through the various levels of hockey himself, he has a special appreciation for player development.
“It’s great to see them come up through the ranks. That’s the most rewarding part for me as a coach, seeing a kid like Jacob Ingham take the steps he has with us this year to be one step closer to his dream of playing professionally,” Tisi said. He added that “This year, he’s been our backbone.”
And even though it’s a bonus regularly working with an NHL prospect like Ingham, Tisi has a keen understanding of what back-up goaltender Lucas Pfeil’s role is and what he brings to the team.
“Being a back-up is not an easy job. It takes a certain kind of personality and approach,” Kain explained.
“I think Lucas has grown a lot as a goalie. It hasn’t always been easy for him, but I think he’s proven a lot of people wrong in his time here,” Tisi said, adding, “He’s a great teammate. The guys love him. When he gets an opportunity to play, guys want to play for him.”
Considering the importance each goaltender has to the team, giving the same treatment to both players is essential. “When you come to work, you have to be ready to perform – whether you haven’t played in two weeks, playing back-to-back games, or it’s a practice day,” Tisi emphasized.
“Having that consistent approach builds the professional nature in them. It’s just the standard in how we approach things.”
Maintaining a positive outlook is another key to his philosophy as a mentor. “Realistically, these guys know when they mess up,” Tisi admitted.
“We all make mistakes, and there are games where they know what they did wrong. We look more on the positives and what they’re doing well,” he said, describing how his additional role as video coach has allowed him to use much more video content to reinforce his messages.
This structure has proven successful, as he has had a number of Alumni continue on to the NHL (Jake Paterson with Detroit, Luke Opilka with St. Louis). Many of his former students have also been recruited to the collegiate ranks in USports – such as Matthew Greenfield (University of Calgary), Dawson Carty (Acadia University), and Luke Richardson (Queen’s University).
“We’ve been lucky to have some amazing goalies here and it’s been a privilege to help them out,” he said, while redirecting much of the credit to the strength and conditioning plus the overall coaching resources the team has available.
“It’s about how they’re treated as people and grooming them to be professionals,” he summarized.
“A lot of teams do that as well, but Kitchener is just a special place where it’s just on an extra level of importance to the team and the city. You feel obligated to play well.”