Phoenix clean house after poor start to the season

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·Mike Sanderson
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The Sherbrooke Phoenix fired their head coach and GM Wednesday to try and kick-start a turnaround to their season. (THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Ghyslain Bergeron)
The Sherbrooke Phoenix fired their head coach and GM Wednesday to try and kick-start a turnaround to their season. (THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Ghyslain Bergeron)

The Sherbrooke Phoenix are trying to right the ship after a tough first half, and they need to turn it around fast.

After losing seven of their last eight games, they made the front office power move Wednesday, sending the only head coach and GM the team has ever known packing.

The Phoenix canned Judes Vallée and Patrick Charbonneau after a disappointing 12-15-3-2 start to a year that Sherbrooke expected to go better.

Part-owner Jocelyn Thibault will take over the general manager duties on a permanent basis, and he appointed Stéphane Julien as the interim head coach.

“It’s a really difficult day and a sad day for the Phoenix organisation,” team president Denis Bourque said. “Before starting the organisation, we are all friends. The results of the last two years have led to this decision.

“We promised a good season to our fans, and it hasn’t happened.”

Thibault added that this decision wasn’t one that came together quickly.

“We aren’t happy to be here today,” he said. “We analyzed the last two seasons and we believe we had to make a change on the hockey side.”

Thibault takes the reins of a team that has been underachieving after a promising looking unit on paper at the start of the season. Netminder Evan Fitzpatrick has been up and down in his sophomore season as the starter, and the team has been dealing with injuries. Defenceman Jérémy Roy has missed 12 games and the team is 1-11 in his absence.

Charbonneau had signed a contract extension in the summer, and Vallée re-upped for two years in January. He had coached in the most games for an expansion coach in the league’s history.

Julien, the team’s director of player development, will coach the team for the time being. He has a couple of seasons as an assistant behind the bench on his resume after a lengthy playing career in Europe and three seasons in Sherbrooke as a member of the Faucons in the early 1990s.

He jumps behind the bench on the interim, but he could be named the head coach after a search. Vallée’s assistants, Benoit Desrosiers and Jean-François Labbé, were retained and will help out the transition process to a new coach, if need be. They also provide stability for the players.

“We talked at length with Stéphane and we know we are talking about the long term here,” Thibault said. “Eventually, we will gather a list of applicants and if Stéphane is the man to go with, then we go forward with that.”

Now the question becomes: what to do to salvage the season? Roy returns Friday, which could give the shot in the arm. Their opponent Friday is the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, who are the league’s worst team, and then a two game swing in Blainville-Boisbriand and Drummondville, which could also give the team a shot in the arm.

Guillaume Gauthier has been on fire this season, leading the team with 56 points. Roy, Daniel Audette and Kay Schweri, fixtures atop the team’s ice time list, have been in and out of the lineup with injuries. The team could be a veteran goalie, a veteran forward and good luck away from doing some damage in the second half of the season.

The team is sitting in 13th place in the league with 29 points. They are three points back of Drummondville for fourth place in the West Division.

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