Magazine Feature / People

Alum coaches and manages pro hockey team

Rich Preston (BSBA ’74) started playing hockey at age 4. Add it all up and he’s pushing nearly six decades on the ice playing the game or a step off the ice coaching the game.

And this summer, he continued that tradition in impressive form. He was named head coach and general manger of the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, the highest level of junior hockey in Canada.

He admits — even with all of his experience — that both jobs “have been a great challenge.” Still, he says the job is something he “wanted and needed” at this stage of his career.

“I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of trying to have patience as a general manager when you don’t have as much patience as a coach,” he says.

Nevertheless, he adds that drafting and building a team and then coaching it “to make everyone better, and having a passion for it and really enjoying it — this isn’t work or a job, it’s doing what you know a lot about and loving it.”

Preston, 55, says he particularly enjoys the coaching side, “especially the young men who are eager to learn so they can play at the pro level.”

Look at his career and it’s easy to see he knows plenty about playing at the pro level. Preston went to the now-defunct NHL competitor, the World Hockey Association, after playing at DU for four years. In five years in the WHA, Preston played with the Houston Aeros and Winnipeg Jets, and was named MVP of the 1978–79 WHA playoffs. He then played for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils for the rest of this 13-year pro career. Over that time, he played right wing and amassed 573 points. After his playing days ended, he spent the next 20 years coaching various hockey teams at all levels of pro competition.

So it’s not surprising the Hurricanes snapped him up. One example of his coaching prowess came as head coach of his hometown team, the Regina Pats in Saskatchewan. The year before he took the reigns, the team turned in a dismal 26-43-3 record. In his first year, the squad posted a 37-33-2 record. At the end of his second year, the record jumped to 42-27-3, the franchise’s first 40-win season in more than a decade, and he helped establish a team record 27 home-game-undefeated streak.

Hurricanes President Brian McNaughton, says he and the team’s board of directors “have the utmost confidence and respect for Rich as a leader, coach and individual.”

At DU, Preston scored 46 goals and notched 62 assists from 1970–74. He led the team in assists in the 1973–74 season and also served as co-captain. He still finds time to keep an eye on Pioneers hockey, too.

“George [Gwozdecky, DU’s head coach] is doing an excellent job,” Preston says. “Back-to-back titles — pretty impressive.”

Reflecting on coaching in general and hockey in particular, Preston says he believes it prepares players for life.

“It teaches you valuable life skills … hard work, discipline, working to improve, mental toughness to get thru adversity, accountability and being committed to a goal.”

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