A funny thing happened on the Ontario Hockey League coaching carousel
this year. While teams in trouble often look at younger coaches, this
season’s selections include coaches with previous Ontario Hockey League
experience. Even Bill Stewart – recently hired by the Barrie Colts after
being let go by the New York Islanders – enjoyed success previously with
Oshawa, taking the Generals to the Memorial Cup in 1997.
A closer look at some of the other selections:
WINDSOR: On May 19, the Spitfires gained instant credibility when they
introduced Mike Kelly as president-general manager and Tom Webster head
Both men enjoyed success in the Ontario Hockey League before moving on
to the National Hockey League. Kelly built the Guelph Storm into a league
power in the early 1990’s before becoming a scout for the Calgary Flames. In
between National Hockey League coaching assignments, Webster guided the
Windsor Compuware Spitfires to their franchise-best record of 50-14-2 and a
Memorial Cup berth in 1988. In 1992-93, Webster coached the Detroit Jr. Red
Wings (now Plymouth Whalers) to their then best-ever record of 37-22-7.
Webster (along with general manager Jim Rutherford) was instrumental in
establishing a strong junior hockey identity in the Detroit area.
At one time Kelly tried to hire Webster to coach the Storm. Now he has
“Tom had a great track record, he’s a strong family man with values
similar to mine and (back then) I thought he’d be the right man for the
Storm,” Kelly told the Windsor Star.
Webster and his family have strong ties to the Windsor area and he is
happy to be coming home.
“It’s time to have some fun again,” Webster said. “I recently asked
(wife) Carole how many time we’d moved over the years. It’s 25 and that’s
enough. It’s time to watch the grandchilden grow up.”
“I have no doubt Mike and I will be able to work together very
effectively,” Webster. “I know his history, I know he’s a detail man, he’s
got strong family values and he wants to return this franchise to the top.”
Above all else, the Kelly-Webster team represents stability for a
franchise the has seen 13 coaching changes and four general managers since
owner Steve Riolo bought the team from Compuware 10 years ago.
If anyone can turn around a franchise that has three winning seasons
over the last 12, it’s Kelly and Webster.
Kelly endured a 4-51-11 season in Guelph in 1991-92. Two years later,
the Storm went over .500. In 1995, Guelph had the OHL’s best record with 99
points and lost in the OHL Finals to the Jr. Red Wings. In 1996, the Storm
won the OHL title and played in the Memorial Cup Tournament in Peterborough.
Kelly knows he can’t try to quick-fix the Spits.
“You’ve got to establish some principles that you want the organization
to follow,” Kelly said. “You want to become a place where kids want to play,
where their parents and agents want to play. We got to that point in
Kelly’s impact was tested right away with his first-ever draft selection
for Windsor June 5th in Brampton. Despite claims that he would play only for
the Whalers, Clawson-native Tim Gleason was selected seventh overall by the
Spitfires. When Gleason’s agent Eddie Mio gave the Spitfire jersey back
minutes after the selection – and his parents refused to speak to reporters
after the selection – it appeared Gleason wasn’t going to play in Windsor.
If it had been another year and another management team, Gleason may
have played elsewhere. But on June 9, Gleason signed with Windsor and is
expected to report to training camp the last week in August.
SAULT STE. MARIE: OHL teams usually play one Friday-Saturday
doubleheader per season in Erie and stay at the venerable Avalon Hotel in
downtown Erie, just three blocks from the Erie Civic Center.
I was surprised one Saturday morning at the Avalon when I strolled into
the hotel restaurant and saw Erie head coach Paul Theriault having breakfast
with his son.
“I live here in the hotel,” Theriault told me.
If I can borrow an old line, the Avalon Hotel is a nice place to visit
– but I wouldn’t want to live there.
And after spending a year-and-a-half living in the Avalon Hotel,
Theriault is going home as the new head coach of the Sault Ste. Marie
Theriault, 49, starts his second term as coach of the ‘Hounds. He was
fired in 1978 after the Soo went 26-32-10.
Like Webster, Sault-native Theriault comes home to family.
“I’d like to pay tribute to my dad,” Theriault said as he fought back
tears in an emotional June 1 press conference. “I wish he were here to see
this and I’m honored to have my mom with me. When I look around this room
and see so many family members, it’s good to be home.”
Theriault’s wife, Janice, is a native of Sault, MI and has stayed in the
Soo while Theriault worked in Erie.
“Obviously, Paul’s first role is as a father, a husband, a son a brother
and then a coach,” she said. “It’s a nice way to put food on the table
because he loves it so much. We’ve come full circle now. I’m teaching at
the same small school as when I left and he’s back with the Greyhounds, the
team he started with. I think some things are meant to be.”
The groundwork for the rehiring of Theriault started with the firing of
Dave Cameron, who was dismissed May 6 after two seasons and despite a 23-
point improvement in 1998-99.
Greyhounds’ general manager Dave Mayville said despite improvement, he
was looking for someone to take the ‘Hounds to a higher level.
“I want to make it clear that he wasn’t fired because of anything to do
with his personal life or bad habits or anything like that,” Mayville told
the Sault Star. “I just didn’t think he was the guy to take us to the next
Theriault downplays the fact that his new team has as many as 17 players
returning and should be seen as an early favorite to be near the top of the
“I see a team that’s going to struggle to make the playoffs,” Theriault
said. “Look at the depth chart. It’s one thing to have 17 players returning
that have won before as opposed to 17 that can play. If these kids had won,
I’d be a lot more confident.”
The Soo had a 31-29-8 regular season record, but went 1-11-3 over their
last 15 games, including a first-round elimination in the playoffs by Owen
Sound in five games.
“When I look at a team, I look at how they did down the stretch,”
Theriault said. “I’m just not going to sugar coat a situation. You win with
skill, determination, heart and chemistry.”
Theriault is a coaching lifer. After being fired from Sault Ste. Marie
in 1978, Theriault moved to Oshawa, a one-year coaching stint in West
Germany, the IHL’s Flint Spirits in 1989-90, Alleghe and Mastini of the
Italian Ice Hockey Federation 1990-1996, and the Buffalo Sabres as an
assistant in 1996-97 before joining Erie as a consultant midway through the
SUDBURY: Watching the Sudbury Wolves over the first couple of weeks on
last season, I got the feeling Wolves new head coach Reg Higgs was a little
On opening night against the Whalers, the Wolves were assessed a bench
minor early the first period because the lineup card wasn’t filled out
properly. In the final minute of the game, the Whalers held a one goal lead
and with a faceoff in Plymouth territory, Higgs chose not to pull his
goaltender. Plymouth won the game.
Fast forward six days later and Sudbury is in Windsor to play the
Spitfires. I’m outside Windsor Arena when the Sudbury bus passes me and goes
around the block. A well-dressed man gets out of the Sudbury bus and asks
me, “Can you tell me how we get into the arena?”
The well dressed man was Reg Higgs.
Two days later, I’m strolling around the halls of the Compuware Sports
Arena when the Sudbury bus pulls in. As well dressed man gets out of the bus
and says, “Can you tell me where the dressing room is?”
The well dressed man was Reg Higgs.
Despite some talented players, the Wolves never really hit stride last
year and were smoked in a first-round sweep in the playoffs by Belleville.
On another team in another situation, Reg Higgs would have been fired.
With Sudbury, Higgs had his duties shifted from head coach to director of
player development and advance scout for the upcoming year.
Higgs is happy with the shift.
“I told the Wolves when I was hired that I was looking to get back in
the NHL in that capacity,” Higgs told the Sudbury Star. “My hope is to be
back in the NHL within two years. I’m 55 now, and I don’t want to bounce
around for a few more years. The reputation I have with a percentage of NHL
people I know was as an identifier and developer of talent. That’s what I
did for NHL teams in the past, so it’s not new to me and this position will
allow me to get back to work in that capacity.”
Before coming to Sudbury, Higgs worked in player development for the New
York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Wolves have had their fair share of front office turnover over the
past few years, but that should end emphatically with the hiring of Bert
Templeton as new general manager-head coach. Templeton was hired May 27th
and manned the Wolves’ table at the OHL Priority Selection June 5-6 in
Templeton moves over from Barrie and has outstanding credentials.
Templeton has seven division titles, two OHL titles, one Memorial Cup title,
two OHL coach-of-the-year awards and two OHL executive-of-the-year awards
with six different OHL teams. He has 792 wins, second to Ottawa’s Brian
“We’re ecstatic to hire someone of his stature,” said Sudbury director
of hockey operations Blaine Smith. “We wanted a high-profile coach and
possibly GM and we not only get a high profile coach by the coach of all
coaches in major junior hockey. His success in the OHL is only rivalled by
Brian Kilrea and he’s 22 years of successful coaching with a winning
percentage pushing .600. That speaks volumes for what Wolves fans can expect
to enjoy in the future.”
“I’m very excited with the opportunity of joining the Sudbury Wolves and
coming to one of the best junior hockey markets in the OHL,” Templeton said.
“Having coached in the Sudbury Arena over the years, I know how vocal and
excited Wolves fans can be when they have a winning team. I hope to turn the
team’s fortunes around and produce the same kind of excitement I witnessed in
Sudbury back in 1976 when we played Sudbury in the OHL final (with the
Hamilton Fincups). It was unbelievable.”
GUELPH: The Storm have been a coaching stepping stone over the past few
years, with George Burnett and Craig Hartsburg moving on the NHL jobs.
Ironiclly, they both work now in Anaheim.
Ex-Windsor Spitfire head coach Paul Gillis was hired June 15, taking
over for the departed Geoff Ward.
“We had guys with NHL, minor pro and Canadian Hockey League experience
apply,” Guelph general manager Alan Millar told the Kitchener-Waterloo
Record. “He was an NHL assistant in Hartford and has coached in Springfield
(AHL), Windsor (OHL) and Quad City (UHL) where he won a championship two
“He understands the development of young players. He’ll coach from the
heart. He and I are compatible. I very much believe we’ll make a good
ERIE: No head coach has been hired as yet. Rumors persisted that the
Otters were interested in former Windsor head coach Tony Curtale, but Curtale
landed a job as GM-head coach with the new Dallas franchise in the North
As with all head coaching jobs, Ted Nolan appears to be a leading
candidate. He worked with Erie Managing Partner Sherwood Bassin in the early