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Local pro hockey: Minnesota native Zangs new man behind Privateers’ bench

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Brad Zangs has coached hockey at various levels all over North America, primarily in the Midwest region and even farther west.

Now, the Minnesota native has made the move east to fulfill a lifelong endeavor — to coach at the professional level.

Zangs is poised to do just that as coach of the Watertown Privateers, who open their season at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at the Danbury Whalers.

“I’ve coached at a lot of different levels,” Zangs said. “When this opportunity came, I jumped at the chance to coach pro hockey because I’ve always wanted to do it.”

Zangs will guide the Privateers into their fourth season in the Federal Hockey League and second in the city since moving from Alexandria Bay in 2012.

He will also serve as the team’s general manager, as his predecessor player-coach Paul Kelly, did last season for the Privateers.

Besides the coaching change, perhaps the biggest development with the Privateers franchise during the offseason was a name change from Thousand Islands to Watertown.

“I think Brad has brought some fresh new ideas to this team, which will have a different look this season,” Privateers owner Nicole Kirnan said. “And every thing is positive as we have additional sponsors this year which will help solidify the team’s place in the city long term. We’re really looking forward to this season.”

Zangs has more than 20 years of experience coaching at different levels, particularly in the junior hockey ranks,

His most recent coaching job was in Wyoming with Yellowstone Quake of the American West Hockey League, where he led the team to 42 wins last season.

Zangs previously served as head coach and general manager of the Sioux Lookout Flyers in Ontario of the Superior International Junior Hockey League in the 2011-12 campaign, and the season before, he coached in Minnesota for the Albert Lea Thunder of the North American Hockey League.

“The past few years in juniors I’ve been able to be in the top four league-wise with my teams and move a lot of kids on to the next level,” Zangs said. “Now I’d like to take a hand at the minor-league hockey level and move kids on this way to the higher level.”

Zangs also coached for a season in Ohio with the Lake Erie Vikings of the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League as well as in Montana with the Butte Irish of the NAHL, and in Wisconsin with the Northwest Knights of the SIJHL.

While coaching in the NAHL, six of his players received NCAA Division I scholarships and several more went on to play for Division III schools.

“I don’t have to recruit anymore, which is nice,” Zangs said. “My goal is also to try and get kids around here who are D-III players and maybe even some from St. Lawrence and Clarkson who love the area and want to stay and keep playing. That’s something to shoot for.”

Zangs has also had coaching success in the college ranks, including at Iowa State,, which won a national championship at the club level, as well as at Hamline University in Minnesota and Northland College in Wisconsin.

Zangs is clearly excited to serve as skipper of the Privateers in his first coaching job in the professional ranks, albeit in the FHL — the lowest rung of the six pro leagues in North America.

“This is going to be a learning experience for me as well,” Zangs said, “so hopefully people will be patient with me, but make no mistake about it — we’re here to win.”

The Privateers will mostly consist of new faces, but will be anchored by a group of returners, including defenseman Kris McCarthy, who has been named team captain, and goalie Matt Anthony.

“I think we’ll have two lines that will be really good and we’ll have a third line that will be interesting as well,” Zangs said. “We’ve got some work to do, with some veterans from the SPHL and the CHL who are looking to come back. So it’s looking very positive.”

Zangs plans to employ an up-tempo style of play with the Privateers while competing in the often physical and bruising FHL.

“I run the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings systems,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing and every day we’re getting a little bit better.”

“The kids seem to be really receptive,” Zangs said. “In our first practice, some of them said they’ve never had a practice like that, and they said it was really positive. So we’re excited to get the season going.”

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