The Western Hockey League’s offseason of head coach turnover is finally about to wrap up. The Vancouver Giants and Moose Jaw Warriors have become the eighth and ninth teams to hire a new bench boss, leaving the Regina Pats as the only remaining organization without a coach.
The Giants have hired Troy Ward to replace Don Hay, who left to coach the Kamloops Blazers, and the Warriors brought in Tim Hunter to take over from Mike Stothers, who moved on to coach the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.
Ward heads to Vancouver with 22 years of coaching experience. He spent the last three years as the bench boss of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. He hasn’t coached at the major junior level, but he did serve as the assistant coach at the University of Denver, associate coach at the University of Wisconsin and the head coach of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Ward wasn’t Giants GM Scott Bonner's first choice, though. Vancouver was very high on Steve Hamilton, who was promoted to head coach of the Edmonton Oil Kings after Derek Laxdal left for the AHL’s Texas Stars, Tri-City Americans coach Jim Hiller and Warriors new coach Tim Hunter.
Hamilton and Hunter were the two coaches that Vancouver initially interviewed to replace Hay. Hamilton, the assistant coach with the Edmonton Oil Kings, pulled his name out of contention. He ended up the head man with the Oil Kings. The Giants weren’t able to come to terms with Hunter, the former Canuck winger, after lengthy discussions. (Vancouver Province)
Bonner talked to Hiller, the former bench boss of the Tri-City Americans and Chilliwack Bruins, at the NHL Draft. He pulled out, too, apparently to chase a pro job. Green was high on Toigo’s list, but he told the team that he wanted to stay in the pro ranks. He eventually accepted an offer to return to the Canucks’ AHL farm club, the Utica Comets.
There will be significant pressure on Ward's shoulders to build the Giants, who finished 32-29-7--4 last year, into a contender sooner than later. The organization has made it known they will bid to host the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Ward plans on playing a puck-possession style. This will be a change from Hay's style, which was based on getting the puck deep and forechecking.
"I would say we are going to be a puck-possession team," he said. "From what I've been told and what I can see, it's different than they played in the past, not necessarily better, but different. We want the puck; we have some skilled players and when we have it we want to keep it."
Hunter, 53, joins the Warriors without any junior hockey coaching experience, but he has spent 14 years behind NHL benches. He has worked as an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs following spending 15 years in The Show as a hard-nosed forward.
The Warriors were expected to take the next step forward in their rebuild last year, but they seemed to underachieve with a 21-42-3-6 record. Hunter will be expected to lead them back into the playoffs this year and make some noise in the second season the year after when their cornerstone forward - Tampa Bay Lighting prospect Brayden Point - is in his 19-year-old season.
Former Pats coach Malcolm Cameron was passed over by the Warriors in favour of Hunter. Cameron was fired in July largely due to the ownership change in Regina.
The pressure is now on the Queen City Kids to fill their bench boss vacancy. There have been rumours that Pats general manager Chad Lang has had several conversations with Yorkton Terriers head coach Trent Cassan, who led his club to back-to-back SJHL championships in 2012-13 and 2013-14 as well as an RBC Cup this past year.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen