Since 1994, Gord Thibodeau has been a fixture behind the bench in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
From all over northern Alberta, coaching seven teams in six cities, Thibodeau recently stepped into the record books by claiming the record for most wins as a head coach in the AJHL, surpassing Don Phelps.
Thibodeau, in his first year coaching the Whitecourt Wolverines, watched his squad knock off the Fort McMurray Oil Barons 2-1 in overtime on Feb. 3 (before dropping their next game against the Oil Barons 3-2 the following night). Thibodeau had his longest tenure with the Oil Barons, spending 11 years, so it was fitting he could get the record back in Fort McMurray.
Even more remarkable in this coaching run has been Thibodeau’s battle with cancer, something he has fought since 1989, and is currently battling once again. Last year, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is still leading hockey teams while fighting the disease.
In 1994, at the age of 31, Thibodeau got his first head coaching job in his hometown of Fort Saskatchewan. He spent two years there before joining the Sherwood Park Crusaders for a season.
Then, it was to the Lloydminster Blazers for three years from 1997-2000. Thibodeau followed that with another three years in a new city, this time with the St. Albert Saints.
Starting in 2003, Thibodeau landed his first head coaching and general manager job with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. He spent more than 10 seasons there, winning one league championship in 2006. The Oil Barons made the finals another five times, but could only bring home the hardware once.
Thibodeau left Fort McMurray for Lloydminster in 2014-15 and coached for two years before taking over in Whitecourt. Last year, Thibodeau was the head honcho of the Bobcats as the team hosted the RBC Cup. Ultimately his team fell in the finals as hosts, but Thibodeau nearly had his first national championship.
As the 2016-17 AJHL season winds down, Thibodeau’s Wolverines sit atop the Viterra North Division one point ahead of Fort McMurray. It will likely come down to the wire between the two teams (Spruce Grove is a few points back, too), so it’s looking like Thibodeau will have to best one of his old squads to claim the division.
Thibodeau told the Edmonton Journal he has plans to continue coaching for years to come, and with a few more successful years, he could hit the 1,000-win mark.
Whenever Thibodeau does call it quits, he’ll go down as one of the best coaches in the league's history who could successfully recruit and shape young players, and always had time for the media.
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