Chris McKelvie has seen just about everything in the world of hockey. Now he takes on the role of men’s head coach at Bethel University, where losses have been many but spirits are ready to make a turnaround.
By Jared Martinson and Sam Johnson
The men’s hockey office sits in the far back corner on the Robertson Center’s lowest level at Bethel University. The walls are bare. A whiteboard leans against the door. The desk is empty, save for a laptop and notepad.
This is where it all begins for Chris McKelvie.
On April 18, McKelvie was named head men’s hockey coach at Bethel. He returned to his home state of Minnesota after a two-year stint as an assistant coach at Army West Point.
A New Brighton native, the Bethel aura is nothing new for McKelvie. “I’m familiar with the area and knew a lot about Bethel coming into here,” he said. “I think it’s a pretty special school and very set apart from the schools we compete against, so that made this job attractive to me.”
The Royals have amassed a 36-147-17 record over the past eight seasons. They’ve won only 22% of their games since 2010-11. McKelvie acknowledges the struggle and is looking forward to setting a tone for winning attitude and grit on and off the ice.
“It starts with a structure, maximizing these guys and their potential, and putting them in situations that challenge them and push them to get better,” McKelvie explained.
Although Bethel is his first head coaching gig, McKelvie’s track record on the hockey circuit is nothing short of legitimate. After graduating from Irondale High School, he headed to Montana to play for the Bozeman IceDogs of the North American Hockey League. The IceDogs won a regular season championship in 2006 while McKelvie skated for them, and afterward he decided to go back to Minnesota and compete at the collegiate level with Bemidji State University.
McKelvie was a mainstay on the Beaver lines, contributing heavily to their Frozen Four run in 2009. He graduated in 2010 with a degree in Sport Management. From there he bounced around in the minor leagues, initially signing with the Hartford Wolf Pack and then finding a niche with the Albany Devils, the team with which he would finish his playing career in 2016.
“The best players in the world are working on their fundamental skills,” McKelvie said. “Sometimes we miss that at the college level, and bringing it back is important to us.”
Then came the West Point opportunity. McKelvie believes that after two years coaching at the United States Military Academy, there aren’t too many differences between the atmosphere and style of coaching at Army and at Bethel.
“Army poses some challenges in recruiting, and I think those challenges are similar here,” he said. “They’re both unique schools.”
Bethel is indeed unique. According to McKelvie, the hockey team is no exception, and his goal is to build on the character of the players and push them past what they thought were limits, both in the rink and in everyday interaction. “We’re all capable of significantly more than we think we are, so putting them in situations that elevate their game and their life is the biggest thing.
“The Bible says ‘whatever you do, do it with all your heart’. That’s the way I want to approach the game: If we’re going to do it, we’re going to maximize our effort,” McKelvie said.
Director of Athletics Bob Bjorklund echoes these sentiments and the excitement surrounding Coach McKelvie’s vision.
“I look forward to the impact Coach McKelvie will have on the ethos of Bethel Hockey. He is a highly organized and determined team builder who has demonstrated strong mentorship capabilities,” Bjorklund said. “I’m excited for our our hockey student athletes to experience the fervor and passion he brings to his work on and off the ice.”
Change is never easy on athletes. Chris McKelvie has been there plenty of times, and he’s ready to lead this group of hungry young men to become winners not only in hockey, but in life.
“God has given gifts to each of our players and placed us in this spot,” McKelvie said. “Why wouldn’t we just run with it?”