“Good people make good teams”
“An honest effort gets you an honest result”
“Success is measured by how you finish the season”
The Malawsky-isms above give you great insight into the mind of one of the winningest coaches in NLL history.
Throughout Curt Malawsky’s head coaching career, which began a decade ago in 2013, he has figured out, through trial and error, some of the most effective ways to engage with his players, both on and off the floor. He knows how to bring out the best of them. Because he has been able to do that, Malawsky and his teams have had plenty of success.
On January 14, the Roughnecks head coach earned his 80th regular season win. That moved him past Bob Hamley for the 9th-most regular season wins in NLL history. Just over two months later, on March 17th, Malawsky moved past Chris Hall for the 8th-most wins when he notched his 86th career regular season victory as the man in charge on the bench.
Malawsky’s name is now near the top of this prestigious list of coaches, including Derek Keenan, Troy Cordingley, Paul Day, Mike Hasen, Darris Kilgour, Les Bartley, and Ed Comeau. Even though many of the guys on that list are currently trying to stop Malawsky from achieving more success, he is humbled to be mentioned alongside them as one of the winningest coaches in the league’s history.
“It’s pretty special, especially being up there with that group of coaches – some of the best to ever coach the game,” Malawsky said. “Chris Hall was one of the best ever to coach lacrosse. It’s special, and it’s a tribute to all the guys in the organization in Calgary that I’ve been around for so long. The staff and the players have been exceptional.”
“If you watched how these coaches back in the day conducted themselves, the great lacrosse minds that they are, you take bits and pieces of these guys. You try to formulate your own identity. How you think about the game, how you want to present to your team, how you want your team to play, and finding what personnel you want on your team. We don’t have time to go over everyone, but there are so many guys that taught me so much about the good and the bad.”
The fact that Malawsky passed Chris Hall to be among that group of men listed above is fascinating because these two are also forever linked on a different special list. In 2015, Malawsky and Hall were inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Hall also used to have Malawsky’s job when he was leading the Roughnecks from 2002-2007 – Malawsky passed Hall to become the winningest coach in Roughnecks history a few years ago.
His path to success has run the emotional gamut, from overwhelming joy to hard-to-bare heartbreak. Yet, due to his stick-to-itiveness and incredible work ethic, which was instilled in him at a young age, he’s always been able to stay the course.
Hard work is essential if you want to be successful. What makes success taste even sweeter, though, is working hard while also working smart and with good intentions. If you have been a member of one of Malawsky’s teams over the years, you know how true this is. As much as Malawsky wants him and his players to win on the box floor, it is equally important to the Coquitlam native that his players grow into the best versions of themselves as men.
But before becoming a leader of men on the bench, Malawsky put his love of the game on full display for 12 seasons when he was a player in the NLL. From 1998-2009 Malawsky was a consistent right-handed forward. He scored 20-25 goals in eight of his 12 seasons and finished with 40-50 points in six seasons.
During his first six seasons in the NLL playing for the Rochester Knighthawks, Malawsky participated in three NLL Finals, unfortunately losing each time. Over the next few years following his departure from the Knighthawks in 2003, Malawsky spent some time on the Vancouver Ravens, San Jose Stealth, and the Arizona Sting. He ultimately finished his playing career in the place he still calls his second home today, Calgary. In his final year as a player, Malawsky won his first NLL Championship as a player.
After Malawsky retired as a Roughneck, Brad Bannister, the team’s owner at the time, wanted to keep Malawsky with the organization and asked him to join the coaching staff as an associate coach with the team, as well as hold down roles as offensive coordinator and assistant general manager. Malawsky had had success coaching at the Junior and National levels, so he could step into his new roles confidently.
In 2011, Bannister sold the team to Calgary Flames Limited Partnership, but that didn’t impact Malawsky’s employment. The new ownership group trusted the coaching staff that was in place and kept them on the payroll. A few months before the sale, Bannister had made another hire that would profoundly impact Malawsky’s life. He brought on the legendary and highly-respected Bob McMahon, who, by the time he joined the Roughnecks, already had decades of coaching experience.
By 2013, Dave Pym was no longer the head coach of the Roughnecks. The team was looking to head in a new direction. Malawsky was the choice. He had been soaking up tons of information in his few years as an associate coach, and he felt he could take the next step up the coaching ladder.
“I’ve always had a passion for coaching,” Malawsky said. “I’ve always liked listening to other people’s opinions and trying to understand where they’re coming from, so I can sponge up as much as possible. After three years under Dave Pym, I thought I was ready, but it’s a lot different standing in the middle of the bench instead of running an offense. It was quite a transition.”
It is a big responsibility to take on the role of being a head coach in NLL. It is a highly competitive league with equally talented minds on the opposing bench. You need to have a good team around you to beat them, and I’m not talking about players. Malawsky knew he needed wise men around him who were good-character guys. So, of course, he brought on McMahon to be one of his assistants. These two have been coaching together ever since.
During my interview with Malawsky, he stated that this piece would be better suited if it were about McMahon instead of himself. That’s how much respect Malawsky has for McMahon. Much of the Roughnecks gameplan and approach to the game has McMahon’s fingerprints on it.
“I can’t say enough about Bob McMahon,” Malawsky said. “I don’t think I’d be anywhere near the coach I am today without him. He’s like a father, brother, and the absolute mentor. He’s one of the smartest across guys I know, and I’m fortunate for him to have put up with me for as long as he has.”
The pair and the other coaches and players that have come through the organization since 2011 have experienced many highs and lows together. Whether it was the gut-wrenching 2014 NLL Finals loss to the Knighthawks – one of Malawsky’s most painful lacrosse memories – or the incredible happiness when the team won the 2019 NLL Cup, they’ve been through it all.
“Not winning [in 2014] was devastating,” Malawsky said. “I think about Poulie [Mike Poulin] and Brider [Andrew McBride] in the press conference in absolute tears – [Curtis] Dickson. We had it. We were up by a couple of goals [Rochester] ties it up, and they win. What I remember from that year, honestly, was the heartbreak and how bad the guys wanted it. Those moments to this day stick with me.
“You coach because you love it, and you get rewarded for your hard work. I remember when we won it in 2019. Guys were hugging their moms, dads, and kids – that was special for me.”
Listening to Malawsky reminisce about these moments exemplified the raw passion and dedication to the men that play for him. Every season, Malawsky and his staff are trying to build a cohesive group of quality players and men. Some years require more work than others due largely to roster turnover.
Over the last few years, the Roughnecks have parted ways with big-name players such as Dane Dobbie, Curtis Dickson, and Wes Berg. That has changed the dynamic of the team tremendously. Others have needed to step into new roles and transform themselves into dominating players in their own right quite quickly.
We’ve seen how successful this year’s team has been by following Malawsky’s direction and methodology. Heading into Week 18 action, the Roughnecks at 10-4 and sitting in second place in the West Conference, only a half-game back of the San Diego Seals, who they play tonight (10pm ET on ESPN+/TSN+).
If the Roughnecks win that match, they will temporarily take over the top spot in the West and win the season series against their rivals. The win would be their 11th of the season, marking the most wins they’ve had in a single season since that fateful 2014 campaign.
Malawsky has been impressed with his young team’s steady improvement this year, but stressed that this season can’t be viewed as a success until they know their ultimate outcome – they first want to make the playoffs, then another NLL Cup victory will be their focus.
With all the climbing up the all-time ranks that Malawsky has done over the past few months, you’d think that the 52-year-old, who has been around the league for 30 years, might be starting to get a little exhausted. Not Curt Malawsky. His energy level is second-to-none.
Especially if he has the support of his family, Malawsky has no intention of hanging up his coach’s hat any time soon. As of this writing, he is seven regular season coaching wins from passing Les Bartley for 7th all-time on the coaching wins list.
“I haven’t really looked that far down the road,” Malawsky said. “I love it, I still have a passion for it, and I’m still willing to put in the work. I enjoy being around the team and being around the guys.”
“At the pro level, there’s a lot of pressure on you and a lot of expectations. I can’t do this without the support of my family, wife, and kids – that’s a huge part of everything for me… As long as I have the support of my family, I don’t think I’ll be making a change soon.”
Considering how things have fared for this year’s Roughnecks, it’s hard to imagine a world in which Malawsky doesn’t continue to soar up the all-time ranks in the years to come.