by Warren Rappleyea
As the new head coach of the Ottawa Junior Senators, Charlie Lavigne is fully committed to maintaining the organization’s high standards and winning tradition.
For the past 10 seasons, the Junior Sens have continuously improved and the team is now the class of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL). Ottawa has won four straight Bogart Cups and went on to the Centennial Cup (formerly Royal Bank Cup) each of those seasons.
“Nothing’s really going to change on a daily basis for our returning guys,” Lavigne explained. “It’s going to be a transition year because we have a lot of new faces and we’re going to take it one day at a time. It seems kind of unfair to the new guys in the room that we want to match what the last four groups have done. That being said, that’s exactly what we want to do.”
Lavigne takes the reins from Kyle Makaric, who returned to the University of Windsor as an assistant coach after two seasons on the OJS bench. The new mentor has several key returnees to build his foundation around, including forwards Braxton Ross (18 goals, 15 assists) and Lucas Staresinic (7G, 9A) as well as blue liners Mathis Bedard (5G, 28A) and Jacob Winsor (1G, 13A).
New owner and Director of Hockey Operations Chris Martin and new GM Stu Battrick, formerly an OJS assistant coach, interviewed the bench boss during the summer and made the hire in late August.
“I wasn’t planning to coach this year,” said Lavigne, who spent last season at the helm of the Hawkesbury Hawks, where his goaltending skills helped to win a Bogart Cup during his playing days. “Chris reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in interviewing. I ended up meeting with him and Stu and it just went from there.”
In a way, Lavigne was already connected to OJS. He spent four seasons with the Rockland Nationals as an assistant coach and briefly as GM. In Rockland he worked closely with former OJS assistant Dan Sauvé.
“Dan brought the OJS approach with him to Rockland and I believe in that,” Lavigne said. “It’s about working hard, being accountable to each other, preparing the players for the next level and, really, preparing them for life. Success is a by-product of the work you do. So it’s all about developing young men and preparing them for life.”
Battrick recalled meeting Lavigne for the first time at a tournament several years ago. “We were both recruiting, and we got to talking,” the OJS GM said. “I was really impressed with his willingness to share information, his emphasis on teaching and his passion for the game.”
What it came down to was a good fit.
“The culture we have in our organization is very important to us and hiring someone who can maintain it was a must,” Battrick added. “Charlie may not have known it when it was happening, but he was mentored in the OJS way. He’s the perfect mix of our two previous coaches (former GM/Coach Martin Dagenais and Makaric). Charlie is a great teacher, he keeps the guys moving with high-tempo practices and he really wants to see our players succeed.”
In addition to his time in Hawkesbury, Lavigne stood between the pipes for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL as well as the Moncton Wildcats and Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. He went on play for St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick, where he helped win a CIS title. He spent the last month of the 2013-14 campaign with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch before finishing his career in France and winning a championship in Ligue Magnus.
Although he was very busy with hockey, Lavigne remained focused on his studies, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. That focus on education carries over to his coaching philosophy.
“You never know where hockey will take you,” said Lavigne. As an example, he noted that one of his assistants, Mark Fratarcangeli, who played four seasons in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, is in the process of completing his studies to become a medical doctor.
“Playing in junior is a great life experience,” the OJS coach added. “Not all of our guys will continue playing the game, but we want them to be ready for what’s next. Whatever it is.”
Unsurprisingly, the coach’s game philosophy is about his team controlling its destiny.
“I’m a big believer in dictating the pace,” Lavigne said when asked what we can expect to see on the ice. “We want other teams to play at our pace. We don’t want to drop down or have to step up to their speed. Whether it’s the first line or the fourth line, we want to make sure all 20 guys are going on a nightly basis. We want to play good hockey away from the puck. Ultimately we want to be a relentless opponent.”
That should be fun for Junior Sens fans to watch.