Amid the hustle and bustle of organizing community events, Clare Agnew always feels more assured when her younger brother Bob is at her side.
“I always feel comfortable and confident whenever he is in the room,” says Clare, the director of community services in Morden, Man. “He always has my back, and he’s calming and supportive.”
If you take a straw poll of the individuals who know Bob Agnew well – friends, family, players he’s coached and employees – you are bound to hear praise for the 53-year-old's ability of being a calming presence in any situation.
Bob says the trait serves him well in his day job as manager of the Manitoba Public Insurance branch in Winkler – a post he has held for 16 years – and has helped him build rapport with different generations of hockey players.
He believes establishing a person-to-person connection is a substantial component of effective coaching.
“So much of it is being a people person,” says Bob, who started his coaching career with the Peewee team in Morden in 1988. “Once [the player] trusts you and is comfortable with you, the hockey part of it is so much easier to share and for them to pick up.”
Mark Thiessen, Bob’s friend of 45 years, says players always “migrate towards Bob.”
“He listens to what players say and want to say and gives his advice from that,” says Thiessen, a coaching colleague of Bob’s with the 2009-10 Winkler Flyers and 2013-14 Morden Senior A Redskins. “He is such an easy guy to talk to all the time. Some kids like to be talked to sternly, and he can do that if he has to, but he is more of a listening, calm guy.”
An assistant coach with the Pembina Valley Bantam AAA Hawks this season, Bob has no issue investing time into supporting his players in whatever way they need. Spending time with youth energizes him.
His career highlights are not any particular game or tournament. He is most proud of the relationships he has cultivated.
“I still see kids I coached in minor hockey several years ago, and to have that continued interaction is special. Some of the kids I coached when I was younger are now coaches, which I think is awesome. It has even gotten to the point that one of the kids I coached with the Peewee team has his son trying out for the team I’m coaching this year.”
Morden, Pembina Valley, Thompson and Winkler are just some of the communities Bob has imprinted during his long hockey career. In addition to serving as a coach, Bob has assisted teams with tryouts, player evaluations and developing practice plans.
He took a classic path into being a hockey lifer: His passion for the game was sparked by playing on outdoor ponds and in the family driveway in his early years. There were quite a few participants available for the family scrimmages – Clare and Bob are the two youngest of six children born to Bill and Barb Agnew.
One of Clare’s fond childhood memories was challenging Bob to a race at an outdoor rink with her skating forwards and him skating backwards – Bob got the better of his big sister that day.
Years after those friendly on-ice battles, Clare and Bob continue to volunteer together. They avidly support the MS Walk in Morden and have worked hockey events such as the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, 2017 Esso Cup and upcoming 2019 National Women’s Under-18 Championship.
Bob, who also gives his time to supporting female softball, curling and golf events, says volunteering has become instinctual to him.
“I don’t even think you realize you’re doing it – you just do it. If there is an event coming to town, it's a given you’re going to sign up and help. To me, that’s small-town living.”
Thiessen and Clare both are pleased that Bob always steps up to help out as he is a respected ambassador for Morden hockey and the community as a whole.