Gielczyk: Foley Takes Over Manistee’s Program

“I grew up on skates,” newly minted Manistee co-op boys ice hockey coach Jim Foley said as he sat behind his desk at the Coldwell Real Estate office in Ludington, the Chippewas’ season schedule stuck up on the wall behind him.

Foley played hockey as a youngster, and later became a youth hockey coach, guiding his team to a state championship. Both of his sons, Ryan and step-son Chris, played for him in their formative years.

He eventually became the Manistee junior varsity coach, but resigned from that position before he got the opportunity to coach his older son, Ryan, and spent the last two years as a proud parent and fan.

Ryan Foley graduated last year, and ended his playing days. But his father is holding out hope he might yet try to walk on the golf team at Michigan. Seems that Ryan can swing a club at a small, dimpled white ball as well as at a hard rubber black puck.

Despite his love for the game, and desire to coach, Jim Foley had no intentions of assuming the Manistee position. Not even when Mike Healy stepped down after just two years, and a Northern Michigan Hockey League title under his belt, following the birth of a daughter.

In fact, he insists he was completely taken by surprise when a group of parents lobbied for him to take Healy’s place.

But, it was no a knee-jerk reaction for him.

“A large number of parents contacted me and asked me if I’d be interested in coaching,” Foley related. “I’ve coached all the (current) juniors and seniors, except for one, since they were able to skate. So, I know that whole group.

“I coached them to a state championship as Bantams, and to a lot of other tournaments. The parents looked to me again once Mike stepped down. Actually, I took a couple weeks to think about it.

“We (he and his wife, Rhonda) plan to be living here long term. We’re looking at Florida in the future, but I like to coach. My wife got behind me, and I decided to accept the parents’ request. I talked to (Manistee athletic director) Matt Kieffer. Some of the parents had contacted him. So, here we are.”

Certified a Level 4 coach by USA Hockey, says he has a pretty good grip on the talent level he’ll have, and just where the players’ strengths are, and will have to judge where everyone should be playing.

The Chippewas’ only weakness is their youth and inexperience at the varsity level. Numbers too small for Manistee to field a junior varsity team, so Foley has no alternative but to bring the young guys up the varsity.

A lot of the young kids probably won’t play much during the season, but they don’t have any other options open to them. Foley would rather they be exposed to the game, and use them when he can, than have them feel completely disassociated with the team.

It wasn’t unexpected.

“There was a bubble, and this is the end of that bubble,” said Foley. “We saw a huge drop in numbers in the program.”

But that could change soon, as a large group of younger kids eventually comes up in the program and impacts the high school program. Foley can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and hopes to be waving goodbye to the numbers problem in the not too distant future.

As far as the brand of hockey Manistee fans can expect with Foley behind the bench calling the shots … well, it might be a little different than what they’ve been used to under the previous two coaches.

“I would say my brand of hockey is possession,” he says. “I coach to the talent that I have. If you have control of the puck, and you’re behind your own net, you’re still on offense. That’s been my brand of hockey forever.

“That’s how I grew up playing hockey, and that’s what I expect of these guys. I don’t necessarily like the dump and chase, because you have to have the speed to be able to do that, and we don’t from year to year consistently have that.”

Manistee has two solid defenders and an experienced goalie returning, with the possibility of a second netminder who played a lot last season back as well, but Foley wants to see the entire team involved in playing good “D.”

Josh Fitzgerald and Mason Calleson are certainly key elements for the Chippewas as their leading defenders, and Raymond Schwass proved his worth protecting the Manistee net a year ago.

But, that’s not enough. Not if the Chippewas are to win their first playoff game in program history.

Limiting the opponents shots on goal is paramount, and that is achieved in Foley’s view by taking away the middle of the ice.

Foley likes the heart and desire of his players. It remains to be seen if they can develop the skills necessary to reach their goals.

He’s betting they can.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. 

Categories: Hockey