Saturday, 26 January 2019

Quickest Hiring In History?

In a move that seems rather hurried considering there are five games remaining in this Canada West season, the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns today announced that they have hired former WHL head coach and former Pronghorns men's assistant coach Parry Shocker as the women's team's interim head coach along with former Pronghorns women's head coach Doug MacLeod who will run practices during the week. Less than a week after dismissing head coach Michelle Janus, I wouldn't have expected this announcement so soon, especially considering that current assistant coach Hailey Wood does have head coaching experience with the squad. The Pronghorns looked energized against the Bisons last night, so why was there a rush to replace Janus so quickly with a man who has hasn't coached women's hockey in his entire career?

Shockey's hiring is a curious one. After finding success alongside Mike Babcock in winning the 1994 CIAU men's national hockey title, Shockey made the jump to the WHL where he was named as an assistant coach for the Spokane Chiefs in 1994-95. After spending that season and half of another with Spokane, he was hired as the head coach of the Lethbridge Hurricanes following the one-year suspension of head coach Bryan Maxwell.

After fulfilling one year of his two-year deal with the Hurricanes, however, Shockey resigned his position with club. It appears he was being courted by several teams to become the head coach, and he eventually was hired by the Regina Pats to be their bench boss in the summer of 1997. After going 46-21-5 in his first season and losing in the WHL Eastern Conference Final to Brandon, the Pats made a surprising move by firing Shockey just nine games into the 1998-99 season.

Shockey would return to the game in 1999 at the NHL level where he worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings for the next four seasons. In that career, I assume the Kings would have him working as a WHL scout being that he had coached against some of the players and knew coaches and management from some of the team.

However, Los Angeles would draft a total of four WHL players in the four years he was a scout, and never once selected a WHL player higher than the fourth round or the 104th pick. Defenceman Aaron Rome, picked 104th overall in 2002, was the only player of the four to play in the NHL, and he never suited up for the Kings once. He was traded on the day he was drafted to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Cliff Ronning. I've never been a scout, but I'm fairly certain that draft history wouldn't put much confidence in me.

In 2004-05, Shockey returned to the WHL as the head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors in a rebuilding year. Things didn't go well for Shockey or the Warriors as he led them to a 2-23-5-1 record by December 7 when the Warriors had seen enough, firing Shockey after he had been hired six months earlier by GM Rick Dorman who himself was fired one month into the season. Shockey's team didn't record a win until the 20th game of the season, and the start was the worst of the franchise's then 21-year history.

Since then, Shockey has coached one season of AAA Midget hockey in Alberta in the last 14 years. So why is he being brought in for five games again?

Doug MacLeod has a little more experience with the women's game, thankfully, as he was a former head coach of the Lethbridge Pronghorns women's program from 2001 to 2008, and moved to become a Regional Scout in Alberta for Hockey Canada's women's teams. He too worked with Mike Babcock and Parry Shockey on the CIAU-winning 1994 Pronghorns men's team, and he's been involved in coaching for 44 years. His last coaching job, however, was with the Pronghorns in 2008.

So here's the biggest question: why did Lethbridge hire two men who haven't coached in the last 14 years and 10 years, respectively, to run a program for two weeks?

First, I would hazard a guess to say that the vetting process for these two was extremely short being that they've both worked for the University of Lethbridge previously. Granted, both haven't been at Lethbridge for over a decade and I'm certain standards in Human Resources departments have changed over that time, but they've been hired nonetheless.

Second, if these two men are truly interim coaches, this gives the University of Lethbridge some time to start looking for a new coach long before this season is over without worrying about how this season finishes. There are likely going to be a number of coaches whose seasons are wrapping that may want to jump into the ultra-competitive Canada West Conference, so this could allow the university a chance to get a jump on interested candidates.

Third, as you know, Lethbridge is still within striking distance of a playoff spot as it seems that neither Regina nor Mount Royal had any interest in making Lethbridge's task any harder yesterday. After the dust settled on last night's games, the Pronghorns found themselves five points back of both Cougars teams with five games and 15 points to go on the season. If this hiring pays dividends by elevating Lethbridge's play, there could be a three-way race for the final two playoff spots.

This is an interesting move no matter how one cuts this story, and I'm curious to see how the season unfolds with Shockey and MacLeod calling the shots over the next 14 days. The Pronghorns have a lot of work to do if they hope to make the playoffs this season, but these two men have a pile of experience when it comes to coaching, albeit not much in the last decade of play.

Whether the Pronghorns make the playoffs or not this season, it's fairly clear that the Michelle Janus era is officially over for good at the University of Lethbridge.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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