After a dozen seasons of professional hockey, Mark Derlago won't be boarding a plane this month heading to training camp. Instead, the 33-year-old Brandonite is settling into his West End home with his wife and two kids, ready for a whole new challenge.
The newest member of the Brandon Wheat Kings coaching staff retired from the pro circuit after 646 games spanning from the AHL, ECHL, Europe and Asia. For the first time since he can remember, the leaves are changing in the city, but he's not going anywhere.
"There is finally some structure here with my family," chuckled Derlago. "Between work and our kids going to school. We're finally living in our own house and not living out of a suitcase for 7-8 months."
The suitcase Derlago speaks of saw plenty of airports and quickly racked up the miles with stops in 11 different cities in seven different countries throughout his career. All of which he did with his wife Jenna by his side.
Jenna (Cowan) is no stranger to the hockey lifestyle. She played four years at the University of Maine and has two brothers who played in the CHL, Nick with the Lewiston MAINiacs of the QMJHL and Del who split time with both the Wheat Kings and the Calgary Hitmen. However, now, her focus has shifted to completing her education degree at Brandon University and raising their kids.
"You see some of your buddies packing up and flying out to their new teams, and it's kind of tough to see," said Derlago. "But I made the decision to retire, and I'm really enjoying it and spending time with my family, you can't beat that."
While he may have had a plethora of coaches along the way, it was his time playing in Brandon under Kelly McCrimmon that has stuck with him the most.
"To this day Kelly still has an impact on the way I think the game," added Derlago. "He had a major role in how I played, and that's someone you want to emulate your style after."
Now into his first week of practice in his new role, Derlago is starting to adjust. He is expected to split time behind the bench and in the press box providing Head Coach Dave Lowry and fellow Assistant Coach Don MacGillivray with a different "Birds Eye View" perspective on how the game is playing out.
"The first few weeks here with Dave (Lowry) have been great. I like the way he breaks everything down. He's very detailed, and guys don't get away with anything. Everyone is held accountable."
The new-look Wheat Kings open their WHL Pre-season schedule this weekend with a home and home series vs. the Winnipeg ICE starting Friday at Westoba Place (7:30 Puck Drop, 7:00 on QCountry Radio).