Russ Holmberg isn’t an official assistant coach for Queen’s women’s hockey program, but that doesn’t prevent him from providing his opinions to the team.
With his son Matt serving as the head coach of the Gaels, his advice has a different meaning than it would coming from just any informal advisor. Instead, he provides in-game advice from his perch in the Memorial Centre stands.
Russ called his role with the team is “an extra pair of eyes” in the stands. He added that there’s a difference watching the game from the bleachers as opposed to behind the bench.
“There have been times when I’ve come down to the room after a period, and what I talk about in terms of what I saw and what the coaches talk about what they saw can be quite different,” Russ said. “I think that is a valuable part of having that extra pair of eyes that is looking at the game from a little bit of a different perspective.”
He added that while he gives his perspective on the game, the ultimate call on how to take the advice comes from Matt Holmberg and his assistant coaches.
The position began when Russ made the trek down from the Holmbergs’ hometown of Pembroke, ON, to attend games as a fan before growing into a larger advising role. After Russ made the move to Kingston in 2011, his attendance became more frequent.
While his son has made his mark at the collegiate women’s level, Russ Holmberg made a name for himself in the Pembroke hockey community, coaching boys at the minor hockey level.
He coached for the town’s minor hockey association, taking the lead for teams in various age groups from atom to midget. On top of that, he served as part owner and coach of the Junior A Pembroke Lumber Kings, and spent two years as the commissioner of the Silver Stick tournament, an international minor hockey tournament.
It only makes sense, then, that his son follows in his footsteps. Matt Holmberg was one of the many kids to play under his father, representing Pembroke at the “A” level.
When the younger Holmberg’s playing career wrapped up, moving behind the bench was already on his mind. No longer able to play minor hockey, Matt Holmberg wondered if he could fill a slot on his dad’s coaching staff the next year.
“I can remember driving home after what would have been [Matt’s] last game as a midget. He asked if I was going to be coaching the following year. I said ‘It’s too early to say, I hadn’t really thought about that,’” Russ said. “I asked why and he said ‘Well, if you do, I’d like to help.’ So way back then, there was some coaching seeds that were starting to germinate in Matt.”
Both generations of Holmberg coaches have a similar persona behind the bench and, for the most part, neither brings negative emotions. Russ cited two moments in his coaching career where he lost his cool – Matt remembers both of them, and added that those memories stick out to him because they were so rare.
Matt’s path in women’s hockey, as opposed to his father’s role in boy’s hockey, was the major difference the two could find between them.
Now in his seventh year at the helm of the program, Matt has seen success. He’s the winningest coach in the program’s history and led the Gaels to OUA titles in 2011 and 2013. But while those were major moments in his coaching career, Matt said they aren’t the ones that stick out the most in the father-son coaching relationship.
Instead, Matt pointed out a moment from the 2008-09 season when he was serving as an assistant coach with the program. Harold Parsons — Queen’s head coach at the time — wasn’t able to attend two games, so Holmberg took the reins as head coach for those games with his father on the bench as an official assistant coach.
“It was just he and I on the bench in those particular games and that was a lot of fun,” Matt said. “So my very first game as head coach, Dad joined me on the bench. So that was pretty special.”
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