Matt Doman is no stranger to the Stillwater boys’ hockey team, but now he’ll be calling the shots as its new head coach after being named to that post earlier this month.
The president, head trainer and founding owner of the LumberYard Hockey and Sports Center in Stillwater, Doman has spent the past few seasons as an assistant coach with the Ponies. He takes over the head coaching duties from Phil Housley, who resigned in May to take an assistant coaching position with the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
“It is exciting,” Doman said. “I’ve been a part of the hockey community here for five years and had the opportunity to work under somebody as knowledgeable about the game as coach Housley was and I’m excited to continue what he’s done with the program and hopefully for continued success. Coaching with Phil has really increased my knowledge of the game and things like that.”
The new coach doesn’t have the national name recognition of his predecessor — a hall-of-famer who spent more than two decades in the NHL — but local supporters were pleased with the hiring of Doman, Stillwater Activities Director Ricky Michel suggested.
“The people in the hockey community are very pro-Matt Doman,” Michel said. “He’s been working with youth in the area for five years and he’s been working with them at the LumberYard. To be honest, there was no one in the community that reached out to me by phone or text or email who thought this would be a negative hire and we were encouraged by that. He is ambitious, willing to tackle a challenge and willing to take the program to a new level.”
As a player, Doman was a four-time letterwinner and two-year assistant captain at the University of Wisconsin from 1998-2002, where he scored 26 goals and 39 assists in 135 games. After graduating with a degree in communications, Doman also played professional hockey for the St. John Flames of the AHL and the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL. While competing for the Badgers, he also played for the U.S. National Junior Team in 1999 and served as a captain on the 2000 squad.
After placing second in the SEC in 2011 and third in 2012, the Ponies slipped to 10-14-2 — including 6-10-2) in league play — this past season. Stillwater was defeated by eventual state runner-up Hill-Murray 6-2 in the Section 4AA semifinals.
Housley compiled a 109-109-21 record in nine seasons as head coach of the Ponies — which was a solid improvement considering the Ponies went just 49-118-7 in the seven years prior to his arrival. But in more than a half century of play, the Ponies have still never won a conference championship or advanced to the state tournament — a drought that even Chicago Cubs fans can feel sympathetic towards.
“The first thing we have to find is a goat to slaughter to reverse that curse,” Doman quipped, referring to the infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat”. “Not being from Stillwater maybe I don’t have the same perspective, like some who grew up and played here, but I don’t believe in any of those type of curses. The fact is that we have one of the largest youth associations in the state and we do a good job at that level and developing kids. We just have to keep putting ourselves in good position to make that happen. We’ve been knocking at the door the last couple of years where we’ve had some big games and been up near the top the last couple of years and our time is coming. If you look at the success our young teams have had, our job is to continue that and take those kids to the next level and take them a step farther.”
He plans to remain involved in the youth association, which is the foundation of any strong hockey program.
“We’re going to have a good group helping out and being a part of it in the youth association,” Doman said. “I want to be very involved with the youth program in any way that I can. We have a good, solid group of hockey guys in the community with a common goal of teaching the game and teaching it the right way and hopefully creating a championship from it.”
Doman doesn’t anticipate too many wholesale changes, but he indicated discipline and success away from the rink will carry over to reaching on-ice goals as well.
“If they accept those responsibilities the on-ice stuff will take care of itself,” Doman said. “They are role models to the young players. My philosophy is if we commit to each other as a team, we are going to have success. If you commit to being the best you can be, everybody — on and off the ice — whether you win a state championship or a conference championship, those successes will lead to greater things in life.”
“I’ve really tried to be myself, even as an assistant coach, and foster relationships with the kids. Sometimes they need a pat on the back and sometimes a kick in the butt and it’s also about knowing when those times are. Hopefully if you ask the kids, they know that I respect them and care for them and want the best for them. “I look forward to the challenges that lay ahead. It’s a big job and I think the staff I have and the kids we have, there’s going to be a lot of fun times ahead that I look forward to.”