Four years ago, Patrick Grandmaître didn't have a team. As the new coach of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees Men's Hockey team, he was tasked with recruiting 25 new players and building the program into a contender.
Flash forward to present day, and Grandmaître's leadership guided the team to a first place finish (22-2-4) in only his third season at the helm.
In recognition of his success, Grandmaître was recently named the 2018-19 winner of the Father George Kehoe Memorial Award (U SPORTS Coach of the Year).
"When I got this opportunity to coach this team, you set your mind to what your ideal situation would be," Grandmaître said. "I don't even think the ideal situation in my mind back then would be where we are today. That's not just the statistical results we've had, that's on the type of group we have, the staff, and the overall feeling around this team and program, it's been tremendous."
Assistant Coach Brent Sullivan has worked alongside Grandmaître through the entirety of their time at uOttawa, and sees first hand the passion and dedication for this program.
"It's not all about X's and O's for him. He's obviously a tactical guy, but at the same time, Patty is a leader," Sullivan explained. "We've used the analogy that he squeezes the most out of the lemon. What I mean by that is he's gotten the most out of every individual in that room. Each year he's trying to improve, trying to get better."
The current success of the program stems from the original crop of players recruited by Grandmaître and co. in their first season.
Forwards Cody Drover, Kevin Domingue and Brendan Jacome paced the offence all season long. Jacob Sweeney and Michael Poirier are a steadying presence on the back end, and goaltenders Anthony Brodeur and Graham Hunt were among the best duos in the league.
"In the first year, recruiting was all that was the focus for Patty. Patty is an honest guy, he's never going to paint a picture wrongly for anybody. If you were to pick a word to describe Pat when it comes to recruiting, I think 'honest' is the biggest thing," Sullivan said.
"Our players improve due to the style of his practices, the way he runs things, our systems," he stressed. "He's a new age coach with the way he wants to run things, his work ethic is through the roof."
"Recruiting is the name of the game with any team in college sports," Grandmaître added. "It's finding the right players, but also the right people to fit into your system, on the ice and off the ice.
"The big thing with us is that in year one, we set out to find good hockey players, but also dig into the personalities in the dressing room, off the ice," he said, while adding he'll reach out to people familiar with a potential recruit.
"It's never one phone call and you get that player. It's always a long process into recruiting a player. Fortunately, we were way more right than wrong on a lot of these kids."
A first place finish this year was also a culmination of hundreds of hours off the ice for Grandmaître and his coaching staff. The coaching staff pours over video to study an upcoming opponent, and will adjust systems accordingly.
"I have an open mind into trying to better our chances to win as a team. That means analyzing other teams' systems, their strengths and their weaknesses, and then us trying to be prepared in a variety of ways," Grandmaître said.
"A lot of good coaches do that — It's my philosophy to be able to play to our strengths and try to neutralize other teams strengths or catch them off guard."
Already looking ahead to future seasons, Grandmaître hopes to continue to progress with the program. The cyclical nature of university sport often brings stages of rebuilds and competitiveness — but Grandmaître is looking to model the top programs, and contend for a championship every season.
"The big word is progression. It's easier said than done to progress every year and not regress or stay stagnant," he said.
"It's personally always trying to improve and educate myself with new things or finding fresh insight.
"Keep on recruiting good, solid people. It takes a lot of time to build a championship team. Have we fast-tracked a bit? Yes, but it doesn't mean we can sit on the success in the first three years, we always want more."