McGill heads to Hartford; ICE draft Czech import

By Jeff Bromley

An unprecedented era of hockey has ended in the Kootenays. Kootenay head coach Ryan McGill accepted the job as the new bench boss of the Hartford WolfPack, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers last Thursday, signing a two-year deal. After six seasons with the ICE, five as head coach, and the unqualified success McGill enjoyed at the junior level, it was only a matter of time before the pro’s came calling.

“I know what you’re going to say. That it (the deal) was done when I spoke to you Tuesday but it wasn’t,” said McGill who stated in an interview less than 48 hours earlier that he been contacted by the Rangers organization but nothing had been offered. “The deal didn’t get done until late yesterday. It took about four or five hours.”

Spoke to at length about his future since the Memorial Cup win a month ago, McGill flatly stated that any move would have to be in the best interests of his family. Going to an organization where he’s familiar with those that operate it was quintessential of McGill’s motives to make the jump to the pro level. That being said, the decision to leave a place and club he’s called home for the last four seasons was one of the most difficult he’s faced. “It was huge,” said McGill. “You should’ve seen my house. My wife and I, we’d never been in that situation before and then all-of-a-sudden you’re in it and you’re asking yourself, ‘Am I making the right decision?’.”

McGill, who spent seven pro seasons from 1988-95 in Indianapolis (IHL), Chicago (NHL), Philadelphia (NHL), and Edmonton before suffering a career-ending eye injury while with the Oilers in 1995, experienced the nomadic movement of the business along with his wife Karen, while he was a player. His three-yr-old daughter Kate, who was born in Cranbrook now puts extra consideration on any career advancement decisions dad makes. “It was one of the most gut-wrenching decisions we’ve ever had to make. It’s going to be a little bit of a transition but it’s going to be easier for me because I’m going there and it’s just bang, bang. Everything’s set up with the job as I just go to the rink and go to work. The biggest adjustment is for my family with trying to get preschools and making sure that we’re in the right neighborhood. That’ll be the biggest thing, making sure my family is set up right because for me, hockey’s, hockey, wherever you go.”

Hockey might be hockey but for ICE G.M. Jeff Chynoweth this announcement hit home. “It’s tough for me and my family,” said Chynoweth. Besides the employer – employee relationship, Chynoweth and McGill have had for the past seven years, the two colleagues and their families are very close. “That’s the cruelty of our business. People move on.

“On the positive end, there was no one getting fired, it was an advancement,” said Chynoweth of the unenviable position that never came to pass between the two friends. “You’re always worried about friendships in this business because it’s so volatile. But this is a good story and we’re happy for the McGill family. We know that they’ll do a good job.”

Now the task of replacing the coach that led the club to 174-133-43 career regular season record, back-to-back 100 point seasons, four playoff appearances, two conference titles, two WHL Championships, one Memorial Cup Championship and was also named the Western Conference Coach of the Year for the 2001-02 season and had a 42-19 career playoff record (.689 winning percentage), falls to Chynoweth. Following a pattern evident throughout the organization’s history, the front-runner logically is three-year Assistant coach Cory Clouston. Heading into what could be best characterized as the rebuilding phase of the junior hockey cycle, McGill leaves some big shoes to fill. “I don’t know if you can replace someone like (McGill),” offered Chynoweth. “Every coach and every person has their own identity. Once we make our decision, that person will establish his own identity as well.”

“I’m a big believer of hiring from within, we’ve shown that we’ve done that in the past. I haven’t had the chance to sit and talk about it with Cory but when he came here he was a head coach (with Sherwood Park of AJHL), and he had aspirations of being a head coach. Ed (ICE majority owner Ed Chynoweth) and I will sit down and discuss everything with him as obviously he’s our natural choice.”

“We’ll make a decision early next week and move on from there but either way, the person that we bring in here will have their own identity and their own stamp on the hockey club.”

Quick Hits – The Kootenay ICE participated in the CHL’s Import Draft last Wednesday and selected 17-yr-old Czech Republic native Michel Polak (pronounced Pole-Lashk) 42nd overall. He’s the youngest European ever selected by the ICE and is eligible for the NHL draft in 2003. “Roy Stasiuk saw him play at the Under-17 and really liked him,” said Chynoweth. The ICE G.M. offered some insight into the CHL Import Draft and the fact that a lot of times picks are based on scant information provided by NHL teams, agents and a wing and a prayer. European staffs are such a luxury not afforded junior teams. “We had a list of four or five players and it’s such crap-shoot because you’re depending on agents and NHL teams for information. It’s a different process to go through because you look at the screen (the CHL import draft is conducted by conference call and selections come up on the computer screen) and you don’t know who’s picked. If your guy’s picked you have to scramble because you have ten minutes to make another pick.”

“There was a couple of guys on our list that we thought they’d be there and they weren’t. But we’re happy with Polak. You look at our success with the Europeans and I don’t know if there’s another team in the CHL that’s had the success we’ve had. We know it’s going to end one day but we don’t think it’s going to be with this player.”

Polak and ICE returning forward Tomas Plihal have the same agent and are friends who know each other from various hockey camps in the Czech Republic. “It’ll be great to have a guy come in and two know each other,” continued Chynoweth. “It’s a big adjustment to North America which is something you and I take for granted because we live here every day. Not that’ll be an easy transition but it’ll be a smooth transition with Tomas as a guide.”… You can scratch the name of Colin Patterson from the list of eligible candidates to replace the outgoing McGill. Patterson, a school teacher by trade and a storied hockey coach accepted a head coaching job in Holland and won’t be back for the ICE. “He called us when we were at the league meetings,” said Chynoweth. “For Colin it’s an opportunity for him to get back into coaching full-time and we certainly wish him all the best.”