Hockey Headlines

Monday, 6 July 2015

Will Change Change Fortunes?

Changes in leadership always affect a team. Rarely have we seen teams make changes in two consecutive years and actually improve upon their final standing. The WHL's Kelowna Rockets have seen a coach leave, a coach arrive and lead the team to the Memorial Cup Final, that coach leave, and now the search for his replacement is underway. Ryan Huska left for an AHL job which opened the door for Dan Lambert who took the Rockets to the Memorial Cup Final, but he's moved on to an assistant coaching position with the Buffalo Sabres. The question needs to be asked: can the next coach lead the Rockets to the promised land?

I am happy to welcome back a good friend and excellent writer to HBIC in Peter S.! Peter writes an excellent hockey and music blog called Pucks and Rocks where he looks at the WHL circuit quite a bit. Having him submit a piece for HBIC is always a treat, so I'm happy to have Peter's writing on my blog. Here's Peter with a quick look at the effects of success seem to cause openings for others to step in.
Everyone knows that a championship team doesn't come without a price. Whether it is the Chicago Blackhawks in the salary cap era having to say goodbye to key players or any other team in any sport having to do their best to manage the rosters for the following season, the challenges of repeating are certainly not an easy task.

This proves especially true in major junior hockey, where players constantly come and go. For the defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets, it's also extended to the coaching staff lately. After the 2013-14 season, the Rockets were forced to say goodbye to Ryan Huska as head coach, as he was lured away to the Calgary Flames' AHL affiliate in Adirondack Falls (who have since relocated to Stockton). Taking his place was Dan Lambert, who had served as an assistant coach for the previous five seasons.

Well, after leading Kelowna to their first WHL title since 2009 and coming up a goal short of the Memorial Cup, the Rockets are once again forced to look for a new head coach, as Lambert resigned to accept an assistant coaching job with the Buffalo Sabres.

A third coach in three seasons normally means that a team is struggling to win. However, because the Rockets have been successful for a while, that means the coaches are in demand, and the Rockets are experiencing this problem. One gets the feeling that the Rockets won't have too much of a problem finding a new head coach, given their amount of success on the ice. However, the recent timeline for coaches in Kelowna give pause, particularly this late into the off-season, as normally, all coaching personnel would be figured out by now.
First off, thanks for the submission, Peter!

Peter hits the nail on the head when he writes that Kelowna won't have a problem in finding another head coach thanks to the recent successes of the program combined with the high regard the Rockets franchise is held in. What will be difficult, though, is finding a coach with the pedigree to replicate the success seen these last couple of years with some of the recent player departures to NHL camps. Kelowna saw Nick Merkley and Devante Stephens taken this season while Leon Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey, Rourke Chartier, and Madison Bowey were all taken in previous drafts. It's expected that Draisaitl, Morrissey, and Bowey will not be back due to their growth as players.

Kelowna will still have a good team next season thanks to some of the players who grew by leaps and bounds this season under Lambert's watch. However, a new coach could change everything, and success might be a little harder to come by in this upcoming season. Only time will tell, though. Younger players like Dillon Dube, Tomas Soustal, and Joe Gatenby will be expected to emerge as leaders for this Rockets team in the coming season. Can they handle it? My belief is that they saw excellent leadership in the past, and will be able to replicate that solid leadership for the Rockets this season.

So who fills in? That's a tough choice. Lambert was appreciated by many in and around the Rockets organization for his cool, calm demeanor and his friendliness towards all, including the media. As Regan Bartel writes on his blog, Regan's Rant, "Lambert, like his predecessor Ryan Huska, will go down as one, if not the most, media friendly head coach I have had to deal with,. Huska was a delight. Lambert was off the charts fantastic. I knew as the broadcaster of the team that I had something special going on between head coach and radio guy and never once took it for granted." People who are as vibrant as Huska and Lambert are hard to replace, and it's always tough on the franchise when great people leave.

In saying that, it's nice to see successful people getting a chance on a larger stage like Huska and Lambert are.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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