After working alongside two Coach of the Year candidates, Jay McKee is ready to run a bench on his own.
The longtime Sabres defenseman is the new coach of the Kitchener Rangers, the Ontario Hockey League team announced Thursday. McKee worked with the Rangers as an associate coach this season and takes over the role vacated by Mike Van Ryn, who stepped down this week for family reasons.
"It’s a huge honor,” McKee said in a statement. "I feel very fortunate to have been afforded this opportunity with the Rangers."
McKee, who played in Buffalo from 1996 to 2006, began his coaching career as an assistant with Niagara University in 2010-11. He also was an assistant for the Rochester Americans in 2011-12. His big break came in 2014-15, when he worked under coach Kris Knoblauch on the Connor McDavid-led Erie Otters.
Knoblauch won the Matt Leyden Trophy as the OHL Coach of the Year this year. Van Ryn finished third in the balloting as Kitchener went 44-17-7.
"I’m also fortunate and grateful to have learned from two excellent head coaches during my time in the league," McKee said. "I look forward to applying what I’ve learned from them both, and I’m excited for what’s ahead for our team this season.”
The Sabres drafted McKee in the first round of the 1995 NHL Draft. He played 802 games, joining St. Louis and Pittsburgh after leaving Buffalo.
“The decision to have Jay step into this role was a simple one from an organizational standpoint,” Rangers General Manager Murray Hiebert said. “Jay is someone who our players are not only familiar with, but enjoyed playing for last season."