Pro Hockey's First Player-Head Coach in 40 Years
Port Huron, MI - The name Joe Pace, Jr. has been seen around the hockey world for some time now. A Chicago native, Pace embarked on his Junior A career where he made a few stops before landing in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. During his time in the SJHL, Pace won a national championship with the Weyburn Red Wings. A short time later, Pace began his 15 year professional career with stints in the CHL, UHL, SPHL, and FHL. In addition to playing, Pace has been a Player-Assistant Coach and Assistant General Manager of both the Danville Dashers (2011-2015) and the Port Huron Prowlers (2015-present).
Pace is now making the leap to Player-Head Coach and General Manager of the Prowlers, a feat that hasn’t been done before in the FHL’s nine year history. “It has been a lot of hard work” Pace said, referring to his time so far as a player-assistant coach. “I always dreamed of having a role like this, but never believed it would become a reality. It’s not always fun work. But it is important work to keep hockey jobs around and available for young, up-and-coming hockey players. There are not as many jobs now as there were when I was a rookie. It isn’t just teams that are gone, but whole leagues are gone now, too.”
Player-Head Coaches haven’t been seen in professional hockey in 4 decades since the WHA, with Bobby Hull as the most notable, having played and coached the Winnipeg Jets from 1972-75. Before that, the NHL saw Doug Harvey (New York Rangers,1961-62) and Sid Abel (Chicago Blackhawks, 1952-54) as player-head coaches. Perhaps the most famous player-coach is Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, from the movie “Slap Shot.” Dunlop has long been rumored to be based on real life minor league legend, John Brophy.
Pace shed some light on how the duties of the job might change with the added title of Player/Head Coach/GM. “I know it’s going to be a whole lot more responsibility and even more time at the rink, if that’s even possible” Pace said with a laugh. “I will do everything I can to help every player in the hockey club develop and grow as a player. Practices are going to be that much more important for pre-scouting and prepping for upcoming games since I will also be on the ice.”
Photo credit: Delta Imaging
The 2017-2018 Regular Season Champion Port Huron Prowlers will open up the season on the road in Winston-Salem when they take on the Carolina Thunderbirds. They return to Port Huron for their Home Opener on Friday, November 9th when they welcome the expansion Elmira Enforcers to McMorran Arena. Get your full season or single game tickets by stopping by the McMorran box office or giving them a call at (810) 985-6166.