Eagles announces retirement, leaves behind 21-year legacy at STU

Still of Mike Eagles coaching for the St. Thomas University Men's Hocket team. (By STU Athletics)

This past June, Athletic Director Michael Eagles announced his retirement from St. Thomas University after a 21-year career with the school. 

In 2002, Eagles joined the coaching staff of the STU men’s hockey team, where he was the head coach for nine years. In his last three years of coaching the men’s team, he also worked as the athletic director for STU’s athletic department. 

Following his career in the National Hockey League (NHL), Eagles said the move back to Fredericton was an easy move. His wife was able to continue her love for teaching and Eagles debated working in the financial services business before the coaching position at STU became available. 

“I really love to coach and I always felt like myself as a bit of a teacher,” said Eagles, “so it was a natural fit for me.”

His favourite memories working for STU were the relationships created and seeing student-athletes graduate and go on to be leaders in their communities and careers. 

“It gives me a great amount of pride that we – myself, coaches and athletics staff – were part of their journey to get there,” he said. 

Eagles says the energy students brought to campus excited him each fall and the job is about building competitive teams and having fun while doing it. 

Beyond the relationships, Eagles said his personality was a good fit for the job. 

Still of MIike Eagles, posing next to one of the St. Thomas University Hockey jersey. (By Kesang Decker)

“I really am a competitive person and I really loved when our teams would win,” he said, “I really appreciated winning championships, hosting championships and travelling to the national championships.

After 15 years as athletic director, Eagles’ advice for whoever is hired next is to be willing to put a lot of time in, but recognize that it is super fun work. 

“If you’re working in the sporting business, you’re very lucky,” he said. 

While his job allowed him to witness high-level sports action on a daily basis, it was not without trials. Eagles saw difficult times during his tenure as athletic director, including the death of a student-athlete in 2010. 

“The most difficult time, 100 per cent,” said Eagles.

In 2016, the STU men’s hockey program was abruptly cut, amid STU’s budget deficits. 

“It was a program that I cared very deeply about and having it cut was very tough,” he said of the hockey team. 

Growing up in Sussex, N.B., Eagles left home at 16 to pursue hockey. He was ultimately drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, now the Colorado Avalanche, in 1981. He said playing in the NHL was something that he never took for granted. 

“I feel very blessed to have been able to play in that league for a long time.” 

Eagles’ career was shaped by experiences such two intense playoff series in the early 90s against the Vancouver Canucks, where he played in a “whiteout” arena for Winnipeg Jets fans. Memorable, too, was his run to the Stanley Cup final in 1998 with the Washington Capitals. 

He describes himself as a tenacious, defensive forward, who was “very difficult to play against.”

In 2016, Eagles was invited to play in the Heritage Classic Alumni game taking place in Winnipeg, M.B.; a matchup between old rivals, the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers. He laced up his skates with NHL legends Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk, to take on the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. 

“Winnipeg is kind of a real special place in my heart,” he commented about the experience, “I really appreciated the fans there.”

More memorable than any game, though, is the experience it gave his children, said Eagles. His two sons grew up surrounded by an NHL environment.

“They had the luxury of being around the dressing room, communicating with the guys and skating with the guys after practices.”

Eagles’ hockey connections through his time in the NHL lead to him being called to help with the Saint John Sea Dogs faceoff strategies in the mid 2010s, though he says he enjoys coaching the whole game, not just specializing in faceoffs. 

He describes his position as a “consulting position”, but has enjoyed being a part of the Sea Dogs family, including being a part of a league championship and Memorial Cup. 

Twenty one years at STU and 15 years in the NHL later, Eagles still has hockey on the mind as he will continue his work with the Sea Dogs while lending his time to the female U18 AAA Flames team.