First-year coach has Grosse Pointe South taking aim at another run in the playoffs

By: Mike Moore | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 16, 2013

 South coach Bob McKillop is pictured during a victory Jan. 12 against Allen Park High. The Blue Devils were 6-7 at press time in McKillop’s first year on the job.

South coach Bob McKillop is pictured during a victory Jan. 12 against Allen Park High. The Blue Devils were 6-7 at press time in McKillop’s first year on the job.

Photo by Donna Agusti

After nine years of guiding the St. Clair High hockey team, Bob McKillop was ready for some time away from the ice.

But it’s not too often that a program that finished the previous season one win shy of state title comes calling with a coaching vacancy.

“I felt like it was the right place and a great situation to be in,” McKillop, the first-year coach with the Grosse Pointe South boys hockey team said last week. “I knew the history of this program and knew this was a solid place to be.”

The Blue Devils rolled to a 22-6-1 record last year, finally ending the winter in a 4-1 loss to Birmingham Brother Rice in the Division 2 state final.

Coach James Bufalino didn’t return this season, nor did a talented cast of seniors who played their final high school game at Compuware Arena.

“With them almost winning a state title, you want to come in and keep that momentum going,” McKillop said. “I mean, we lost some quality players, but that’s high school hockey. You have to rebuild and keep going at the same time every year.”

A first glance, the team’s 6-7 overall record at press time would suggest a step back in momentum, but McKillop knew transition would be a work in progress.

“It’s taking time to get to know them and feel out what they know and what they don’t know,” he said. “They understand that. They know they have to learn about me. But I’ve seen things get better every day. That’s the key.”

“Coach has done a lot so far — a lot for us as a team,” junior forward Andrew Bigham said. “We started a little slow, but we’ve seemed to come together more lately. The attitudes are getting to where they should be, and we’re seeing it pay off on the ice.”

With nine seniors on the roster, South isn’t exactly a young team, but there has been a good dose of varsity rookies getting acclimated to a new level, a new coach and a new season.

Still, McKillop isn’t shying away from the big picture and how things should be prioritized.

“You could be 24-0 in the regular season, have a bad night in the playoffs and that’s it,” he said. “By the same token, you could be 0-24, hit a good streak and find yourself playing for a title.”

“I’m happy with where we are,” he added. “The goal for me is to use the games we’re playing now to get ready for games 20 through 28. Then you can really enjoy the success. That’s what this is all about. You use the time you have now to get ready for that playoff format.”

Bigham, who also said he wasn’t worried about the sub-.500 record so far, said the pieces are in place for another long run.

“It’s taken some time for the older guys to kind of show the younger guys what this is all about,” he explained. “But we have the right players and the right mix to do the things we want to do.”

Yet, with all that said, McKillop knows with the one-and-done format of playoff action, judging the success of a season based solely on the possible existence of a playoff run isn’t realistic.

“We could have the best team in the state, but three bad bounces and we’re done, for example,” he said. “So, can I hold the season accountable on whether or not we win a state title? No. The aim is make a run. But if we’re playing our best hockey, have grown as a team and individuals, and have improved this program, then we’ve been successful.”