LOOK AT GOJHL COACHES – by C. Scott Holland
At the outset of any season new faces pop up on benches as assistant or head coaches. Many of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League teams have coaches with plenty of experience either at the Jr. B level or elsewhere and yet there are always some new faces that pop up to man the helm.
As the season gets set to kickoff, let’s go around the league and look at each team.
In the Golden Horseshoe, there is no lack of experience. Frank Pietrangelo of Niagara Falls is only in his second campaign and is coming off a pretty good rookie season as the club finished fifth and had a record of just above .500. The club’s biggest problem will be cutting their goals against down and should that happen NFC could be in the top four mix.
Handling Pelham’s head duties this season is Paul McLean who spent his first season coaching with Brampton. Perhaps McLean can get the Panthers headed in the right direction.
After spending a few seasons out of the Jr. B ranks Rob Hubbert returned last season to head up the Fort Erie Meteors. Hubbert had three seasons of prior experience (2008/09-2010/11) with the Welland Jr. Canadians.
Ryan Kuwabara has two seasons under his belt in Ancaster and one other with Stoney Creek. He returns for a third with Ancaster and under his mentoring the team has gotten stronger moving from 5th place to 4th last season and showing that they are a highly competitive squad under him.
Bryan Kelly has plenty of experience after guiding Port Colborne for two campaigns and Thorold for one. He enters his second year with Thorold and has a record of 81-60-3-6. Last year was rather dismal as they finished seventh. Offense and defense will have to improve dramatically in order the club to compete against the traditionally stronger Caledonia and St. Catharines teams.
The dean of all GHS coaches is the Welland Jr. Canadians’ Keith Osborne (photo: Tampa Bay Lightning, Upper Deck) who has amassed a record of 184-142-14-13 with Welland the past four campaigns and three with Port Colborne. The Canadians have been a top four teams the last three seasons and with the right mix of vets and youth there’s no reason they shouldn’t be a top contender again.
The St. Catharines Falcons have the highly successful Frank Girhiny as GM and head coach. Either first-place or second during the past few seasons and his record reflects upon his team’s success. In 200 games coached he has a 153-35-3-9 record and made several runs at the Sutherland Cup.
One of the GOJHL’s most successful coaches is Caledonia’s Mike Bullard, a former NHLer, who has won the last two Sutherland Cups. His NHL experience has been passed on to many of the team’s players and after five seasons in the GOJHL he is just shy of his 200th career victory. His record stands at 197-39-6-8.
In the West Conference there have been several coaching changes made in the off season.
The Strathroy Rockets had a complete overhaul from management to the coaching staff. Former coach Mike Bondy is now the GM while Brendan Riggin takes over as the head coach. Riggin will have his work cut out for him as the team has lost several vets and will be loaded with rookies. The greatest factor in how Riggin succeeds will be whether he can get sound defense and consistent offense from the club – something that has been lacking in recent years.
In St. Thomas the Stars’ head coach Ron Horvat was replaced by assistant coach Darren Kelly. A newcomer to the head coaching ranks, he’ll have plenty of veterans to help his club but like Strathroy the Stars need to have a good season and get past the first round of playoffs. Perhaps Kelly can create some much-needed confidence in the club and early victories may help that.
In Chatham, Tyler Roeszler took over the helm last season after Mark Davis was dismissed. His youth may help in some ways but can also be a hindrance too. He’ll have quite a job getting the team back into being a solid contender. With a fair nucleus of returning players it’ll be interesting to see how he handles things in his sophomore season.
Don Dickson has a good core group back in Lambton Shores. But after a couple of campaigns, he should be able to get the team moving upward. If anything there’s lots of promise but Dickson will have to get the Predators on a modest win-streak if they are to do something.
While not exactly a rookie coach, Pat Powers, a gifted former Jr. B player, has taken over the helm of the London Nationals. Powers was head coach of the Stars for one season almost a decade ago. In pre-season he has a squad of mostly veteran Nationals looking nearly invincible. Only time will tell how well he can coach the Nats over the long haul of a season.
In LaSalle, Bill Bowler has a fine record of 115-78-9-8 and been a mentor to many players both in Chatham and LaSalle who have moved to higher levels of hockey. His success with the Vipers came last season as they made it to the Sutherland Cup finals but fell to Caledonia.
One of the most successful coaches around is Tony Piroski who is at the helm of the Leamington Flyers. He has a fine record of 163-70-10-6 and coached Chris Scott who was named the OHA’s Jr. B Player of the Year in 2014/15. After winning back-to-back regular season and playoff titles, they may surely contend again. While coaching the Essex 73s for nine seasons, he won seven league championships, three provincial titles recording a record of 286-47.
The St. Marys Lincolns are under the auspices of Merlin Malinkowski, a former NHLer who had much success there from 2003-2009. He returned last season and has started to rebuild a club that has been mired far too long towards the bottom of the standings. He needs just a single victory to gain his 200th one in his career (199-166-12-14).This could be an important season for Lincolns and through hard work Merlin could get them moving upward.
The dean of all active coaches is Sarnia’s Mark Davis whose resume and travels are quite extensive. He’s has some good clubs and has coached one more game than Dan Rose – 512 games coached, 271 wins, 200 losses, 6 tied, 17 OTL, 11 SOL. He is the only active GOJHL Western Conference coach with tie games on his record. The Legionnaires should be a top contender.
The Mid-West has some changes as well with many veteran coaches.
Greg Bignell is the new head coach for Kitchener. The Dutchmen have had three consecutive seasons finishing in the top three and have averaged at least 28 wins minimum. Bignell is no stranger to the Mid-West. He coached the Cambridge Winterhawks for two seasons (2007/08 and 2008/09) and has seven tie games to his credit. This fact should help him if his team gets into a double OT situation, but whether he can replicate Kitchener’s recent success remains to be seen. Neither goaltending nor scoring has been a problem and if the team adjusts well to his systems they’ll be a top contender again.
The Stratford Cullitons will be recharging after a season in which internal problems made a huge impact. But a coaching change was implemented in the off season and veteran Dave Williams (Kitchener 2012/13, Listowel 2010/11, 2011/12) takes over. With a record of 77-65-5-6 Williams’ last coaching stint had the Dutchmen in third place. He’ll need to do some replacing and will have to get a confident group of players in order to crack the top four, but with his experience it certainly isn’t out of the question.
Brampton has never had a spectacular season but new GM/head coach Jeff Angelidis hopes to get the team going. This being his rookie year, many eyes will on the club to see if they can make it to the middle of the pack.
Cambridge’s Steve Hodson heads into his second year with the Winterhawks. He had spent two seasons previously with Brampton. He doesn’t have a stellar career winning record (58-79-4-8) but the team did have a fine 24-20-3-2 record under him last season. Perhaps he can improve on that this year and move up a notch or two.
Waterloo has changed coaches every year for the past six seasons. Don’t know if that bodes well for Todd Hoffman who is the new head coach. Hoffman has been an assistant coach for many years and was the head coach of the Kitchener Dutchmen in 2009/10 when they finished last. He takes over a Siskins team that has finished in the top four during the last three seasons so there’ll be lots of expectations for success which translates to great pressure from the fans and management.
The Listowel Cyclones have Jason Brooks back for a sophomore season. His job this season will be to get Listowel playng .500 or better. If he can get the team to cut down the goals against they will be within range of fifth place.
The Brantford 99ers have Scott Rex as their head coach for the fifth consecutive season. With 100 victories to his credit in 202 games coached his biggest problem will be getting Brantford out of the basement and into the playoffs. While they did improve ever so slightly last season, there is tons of room for improvement especially on the defensive side of things.
The Elmira Sugar Kings had a fabulous season in 2014/15 and look to repeat as the Mid-West’s top team in both regular season and playoffs. Jeff Flanagan will enter his fourth campaign as a head coach and looks to keep the Sugar Kings highly competitive. A good balance of scoring and defense will aid their quest greatly but it will be hard to top Elmira’s 38 wins from last season.
Finally Guelph’s Peter Crosby enters his fifth term as head coach and his third with the Guelph Hurricanes. He had previously spent two seasons with Cambridge and has 111 victories, 74 losses, 7 OTL and 8 SOL in 200 games coached. This could be the year the Hurricanes crack the top four but in order to accomplish that Crosby will have to get the Hurricanes to cut the number of goals against down and have a stellar season like they did in 2010/11. Not impossible since Crosby has them headed in the right direction and definitely improving the last two years.
That’s it for the GOJHL coaching recap and a general idea of who’s who in the GOJHL coaching circles. Good luck to all players and their coaches for duration of the 2015/16 season.