Mon Sep 12 02:47pm EDT
At this time last season, Mark Reeds was the guy who was supposed to have been fired and Kris Knoblauch was a 32-year-old who had never been a head coach.
Part of the beauty of junior hockey is that the future is still allowed to be unclear; it's a game of unknown quanitities save for the gifted very few who have been tapped for NHL stardom since they were prepubescents. It's not quite like that with coaches, who bring a body of work to the table that allows people to make more of an educated guess at what they might do for a junior team. Reeds, of course, guided the Owen Sound Attack from finishing ninth in 10-team conference in a season prior to bringing the OHL's smallest market its first league championship. Knoblauch helped the Ice have a nearly seamless transition after his predecessor
Here are five of the more notable faces in new places as we draw down to having all three Canadian Hockey League circuits up and running next week.
The former Ottawa Senators coach, whom many believe got a raw deal when the Sens tied the can to him rather than own up for icing a semi-AHL lineup, has gone back to his roots in junior hockey. Clouston, who took over after Wheat Kings owner, president and GM Kelly McCrimmon decided to delegate, is stepping into a good situation. The Wheat Kings are flush with younger players and bantam draft picks after last season's Brayden Schenn sweepstakes. The results might not come all at once, since Brandon's a youngish team which has shed talent over the past two years since its turn as MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts in 2010. Above all, it's a chance for Clouston to work toward getting back to the NHL.
Jacques Beaulieu, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Picking just one jumping-off point as a storyline for the Sting is more daunting than deciding which of their 17-year-old stars, Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov, has more NHL upside. Beaulieu, since moving west from the London Knights in the spring, has turned over about two-thirds of last season's lineup. The Sting have added solid, seasoned juniors (Taylor Carnevale, Charlie Sarault, goalie Brandon Maxwell), wooed U.S. talent north (Anthony DeAngelo, Connor Murphy, Reid Boucher) and added a solid import (Ludvig Rensfeldt), becoming an on-paper contender after a couple of years of futility. Throw in his history — being dismissed by the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs right before they went supernova and him matching wits with his former employers in London — and you have more compelling plotline than anything in the Entourage finale.
Mike Stothers, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Hey, the last former AHL head coach who played for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980s did pretty well in his return to junior. Don Nachbaur guided the Spokane Chiefs to a 102-point season and the third round of the playoffs a year ago. Now Stothers, his former teammate, is taking over a team that is flush with a move to a new arena and a returning core that includes five defencemen who are at NHL camps. As Kelly Friesen wrote last week, the outlook is bright and Stothers will reap a lot of the credit if it all falls into place in The Jaw. He has won in a small market; the 90-point season he pulled off with the OHL's Owen Sound Attack in 2005 was that team's high-water mark before last season.
Steve Konowalchuk, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
It's worth including Konowalchuk. The former NHLer comes to the Thunderbirds with two years' experience as a Colorado Avalanche assistant coach to his credit, although his only turn in the top job was with, wait for it, a Junior B team in British Columbia three seasons. The Thunderbirds have been on the outside looking in on the Western Hockey League playoffs for successive seasons, winning just 46 of 144 games. Any improvement under Konowalchuk is bound to get noticed. His counterparts in the U.S. Division also include another new bench boss, the Everett Silvertips' Mark Ferner, who's got a lengthier resume built in the BCHL.
Dominique Ducharme, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Ducharme gets the nod over the other three newbies in the Maritimes Division since he's a first-time QMJHL head coach stepping into a situation where they'll be a certain imperative to deliver. The Mooseheads adding hometown phenom Nathan MacKinnon after three years of subpar finishes means there'll be an expectation to win. Ducharme, whose charges split on opening weekend, has a winning track record at other levels. He is also coaching Team Quebec at the world under-17 challenge, where the roster might include Jonathan Drouin, Halifax's No. 2 overall pick of the QMJHL midget draft who has opted to play AAA midget hockey. Hello, recruiting window.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.