As expected, the Edmonton Oil Kings looked within their organization to fill their head coach vacancy. They named assistant coach Steve Hamilton the third bench boss of the franchise’s history.
Hamilton replaces Derek Laxdal, who recently left Edmonton to become the head coach of the AHL’s Texas Stars. In his four seasons under Laxdal, Hamilton focused on working with the Oil Kings’ back end.
“It’s a big honour, but also something I feel is a big challenge. It’s the next logical step in my coaching career, and I’m very thankful the organization has given me the opportunity,” Hamilton said in the release.
"The results we achieved with Derek Laxdal are some of the most impressive in WHL history, and he will be sorely missed, but I am excited to build on the foundation we have constructed here. The Oil Kings are a terrific organization to be a part of and the success we've enjoyed has been truly special. I look forward to continuing that in the future."
It seems clear Oil Kings general manager Randy Hansch didn’t put together an extensive search to replace Laxdal as Hamilton was named the new head coach just four days after his predecessor left his position. The plan was in place to hand the keys over to Hamilton when Laxdal moved on to the pros.
Hamilton, 40, has an impressive hockey resume beyond his time behind Edmonton’s bench. He won the AJHL Coach of the Year award three times as the head coach and GM of the Spruce Grove Saints and led them to a junior ‘A’ championship in 2010.
Past and present players have spoken very highly of Hamilton. He has been described as a coach who understands his players while demanding respect from them. In addition, he has a reputation for being able to put together an inspiring pre-game speech.
"'Hammy' demands respect from his players," former Oil Kings forward T.J. Foster said to the Pipeline Show on Hamilton and Laxdal. "They're both good with their players. They both understand the pressures of hockey on younger guys because they're not far removed from playing. 'Hammy' understands that [the players] are young and deserve to be rewarded but he's a business man when it's time to play and he doesn't care who it is or how big a part on the team they play, he'll put them in their place. That aspect of 'Hammy' being involved in the room a lot is a good thing for the guys because it develops that comfort ability."
According to Guy Flaming of TSN 1260, Hamilton could have accepted other head coach openings in the WHL. He decided to decline offers from the Calgary Hitmen and Vancouver Giants because he knew he was poised to take over from Laxdal.
You might wonder why Hamilton wasn't snapped up by one of the other WHL teams that also had coaching vacancies this summer. Currently, Vancouver Regina, Moose Jaw and Portland are on the hunt for a new coach while Calgary and Tri-City found new men to take over their vacancies.
Although it was reported that Hamilton withdrew his name from the shortlist with the Giants and "lost out" on the Hitmen job, in reality, he received and declined an offer from both WHL teams.
Hamilton takes over a squad coming off a MasterCard Memorial Cup victory. A repeat seems unlikely because of the departures of Phoenix Coyotes prospect Henrik Samuelsson and New York Islanders first-rounder Griffin Reinhart to the pros; however, if Ottawa Senators prospect Curtis Lazar returns for his 19-year-old season, they should remain one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Oil Kings are one of 10 WHL teams that will have a new head coach next season. The Regina Pats, Moose Jaw Warriors, Saskatoon Blades, Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets, Tri-City Americans, Portland Winterhawks, Giants and Hitmen either fired or lost their head coach to another team.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Email him at Friesenkelly@live.ca and follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen