New Macon Mayhem coach: ‘I want to be a blue-collar, hard-working team’

The Mayhem announced Zac Desjardins as the franchise's fifth head coach and director of hockey operations.

MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The Macon Mayhem announced the franchise’s fifth head coach Tuesday.

Zac Desjardins, who will also serve as director of hockey operations, comes to Macon following a four-year stint as the assistant coach of the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL.

“I wanted to see what I could do as a head coach, and I think this will be a good starting point,” Desjardins told 41NBC Tuesday night. “It will tell me the truth: if I’m destined to be a head coach further down the road or am I an assistant coach? Who knows?”

Tulsa went 132-107-40 during Desjardins’ time as assistant, including an appearance in the conference finals in the 2018-2019 season.

“I know the game of hockey is always changing and it’s always evolving, but the one thing I learned was that it’s still basic,” Desjardins said. “You can come up with these fancy plays, but when you get down to it, it is basically hard-nosed hockey. You got to be physical. You got to get moving.”

The Calgary, AB native played junior hockey in the SJHL and AWHL before starting his coaching career at Kent State University. In 2007, he began coaching junior hockey as the assistant coach for the Campbellton Tigers.

According to a Mayhem news release, he spent a large majority of his life in Denver, Colorado, where he worked as a hockey camp coordinator and instructor for some of the top junior hockey talent in the area.

“I did learn coming from juniors into pro that it’s obviously a lot faster,” he told 41NBC. “The players are still the same. You’re still having to sort of build them up. It’s not like, ‘Hey I’m an adult. I can get ready myself.’ You still have to prepare them, so I think it’s always a teaching game. That’s what I really learned in Tulsa, because I always looked, and you watch a practice or you watch a game, and you’re like, ‘Oh, you don’t teach these guys anything at the pro level?’ And then I found out it’s actually you’re teaching probably a lot more than what you do with the junior guys.”

Desjardins’ hockey mentor of 20+ years, John Paris Jr., was the first Black person to coach a professional hockey team. Paris coached the Atlanta Knights of the International Hockey League and led them to the Turner Cup championship in 1994. He later came to Macon to coach the Macon Whoopee for three seasons starting in 1996.

“It’s a bit of a small world moment for me,” Desjardins said.

The coach acknowledged filling Kevin Kerr’s shoes won’t be easy. In separate stints (2015 to 2018 and 2020-2021), Kerr led the Mayhem to two regular season titles (2016-2017 and 2020-2021) and a President’s Cup playoff title (2017). He resigned following the 2020-2021 season.

“I think no matter where you go as a coach, you’re always filling in the shoes,” Desjardins said. “I think it’s always trying to convince players and fans that, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a little different, but we’re all hockey guys, and we all probably have the same ideas on what’s supposed to be going on on the ice.’ But as far as filling in the shoes, I always say it’s impossible to fill another coach’s shoes, because we’re all different.”

Fans can expect their new coach to build a blue-collar, hard-working team.

“Doesn’t mean that every game is going to be five fights,” Desjardins said. “I just want guys that are going to put it on the line for their teammates next to them. Sometimes, you get teams, and you have two guys that are blocking shots, they’re getting into fights or they’re making all the hits, and everybody else is just skating around.”

“I want a hard-working but fast team,” he continued. “And when I say fast, I don’t mean like, ‘Hey, we’ll be the fastest, skinniest guys on the ice.’ I just want guys who are going to be attacking pucks instead of waiting. And then as soon as we get a turnover, it’s not, ‘Well let’s bring it back and set it up.’ It’s, ‘Let’s get it into their net as fast as we possibly can’ and create our opportunities that way instead of looking for that pretty, backdoor play. I want to be going to their net and trying to create as many opportunities as possible.”

Desjardins said he and his wife enjoyed their weekend in Macon, and they plan to return at the end of September.

“It’s nice to see the town,” he said. “It looks like downtown is trying to turn it around and build up, and some nice new restaurants and breweries, and just everything is looking nice and new. We’re actually really excited to be here.”

Training camp begins October 1. The Mayhem’s regular season starts at Knoxville October 15. The home opener is October 29 against Fayetteville.

For more information, visit maconmayhem.com or call the Mayhem front office at (478) 803-1592.

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