The Frontenacs became the fourth OHL team to lose a series after leading 3-0 (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)
History is repeating itself for the Kingston Frontenacs, which given their history, tends not to be a good omen. The Ontario Hockey League club has parted with a coach who guided his team to a regular season that represented a high-water mark by Frontenacs standards before it proved ill-equipped for the grind of the playoffs.
That could have been written in 2006, when Frontenacs owner Doug Springer, et al., discharged Jim Hulton after an 81-point season ended with a six-game first-round loss to the Sudbury Wolves. Kingston brought in Bruce Cassidy, who lasted a season and a bit. It took eight years for the club to improve on that output, tallying 84 points this season under Todd Gill. After blowing a 3-0 series lead in a first-round loss to Peterborough Petes, Gill and assistant coach Jeff Reid "were not renewed," as per the team's press release, while general manager Doug Gilmour and right-hand man Darren Keily have re-upped.
"We underachieved," Gilmour said in a phone interview. "I'm going to leave it at that. There's a reason you have to make a change."
Coincidentally, Kingston native Kirk Muller was fired Monday after three seasons behind the bench with the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. Muller has coached in his hometown with the Queen's Golden Gaels in the Ontario University Athletics men's league. After nearly a decade in the pros, one would think Muller would cycle through many, many NHL and AHL options before considering any junior job.
Busy day. Jeff Twohey out as GM in Oshawa. Todd Gill out as coach in Kingston. Doug Gilmour signs extension in Kingston as GM #OHL
— Brad Coccimiglio (@bradcoccimiglio) May 5, 2014
— Julie Brown (@ckws_julie) May 5, 2014
The Kingston scenario reads a bit like a redux of when Hulton was let go. The Frontenacs had a bountiful priority selection crop in 2012 when it landed Central Scouting's top-ranked North American skater Sam Bennett along with defenceman Roland McKeown and dangerous right wing Spencer Watson, who will also be fairly early picks at the NHL draft in June. There was an expectation in September that all that young talent would help Kingston "challenge for a much-awaited league title. If they’re ahead of schedule this year, they might be in the mix for a couple of them." There was also a wide-open window to win this season in what many feel is a somewhat diluted OHL.
However, playoff runs are often generated by the bottom half of the roster. In the playoffs, Gill regularly shortened his bench to nine forwards and four or five defencemen throughout the series against Peterborough — which certainly helped the Petes earn their win. How much does reflects on the coach and how much is on the management side, which picked the players, is debatable.
Ultimately, some uncontrollable variables also helped seal the Frontenacs' ouster. Bennett and Watson played through injuries that kept them from joining Canada for the world under-18 championship. Peterborough goalie Andrew D'Agostini also outshone Kingston's Matt Mahalak in the series. Peterborough came in with an anticipated edge in net, based on each overage's play over the past season and a half or so. The gap was even wider than anticipated.
So basically it reads like Gilmour and Keily honed in more on the results than the process, where they should be focusing. By no means do Gill and Reid get an A-double-plus on the latter, since 'coaching up' depth players and worker bees is a big part of the job description in the OHL. (That can also come back to how a team invests in its coaching staff; see London.) Still, the club was pointed in a more positive direction than at any point since 2006.
Kingston is now looking at a 2014-15 season where it will have a lot of new faces, the possibility franchise player Sam Bennett sticks in the NHL and will have scuffed away the shiny renewal that permeated the K-Rock Centre fewer than two years ago. The hiring of Gill, installation of Gilmour as GM and the addition of some elite talent gave Kingston a veneer that it was changing its culture. An abrupt coaching change might be a portent of the same old, same old.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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