Monday, July 7, 2014

New Bench Boss For Oil Kings

The 2014 Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings will name their new head coach on Monday and barring a massive surprise it will be Steve Hamilton. 

Hamilton, who has served as the team's Assistant and then Associate Head Coach since 2010-11, will be Edmonton's third bench boss since returning to the league in 2007-08. 

Edmonton's record under the tutelage of the Laxdal/Hamilton combination is an impressive 182-83-22 over those four years. In that time span, the Oil Kings have enjoyed three consecutive 50-win seasons, three straight WHL Eastern Conference titles, a pair of WHL Championships and are now the defending Memorial Cup Champions.

After the jump, some thoughts on the expected promotion from me and comments from some current and past players as well.

Photo: Andy Devlin

Assuming Hamilton is the guy, and I have heard nothing to suggest otherwise, this is absolutely the right hire for the Oil Kings. As Edmonton takes the inevitable transition from being a national champion to a team reloading, they'll need a coach that can really teach and by all accounts, Hamilton fits the bill. 

Hamilton won't be asked to teach mathematics although he could thanks to his gig at Vimy Ridge Academy where he's taught for the last decade and a half. Before working with the Oil Kings, Hamilton had a very successful 4-year stint with the AJHL's Spruce Grove Saints which saw his club lose a total of 11 times in regulation during his final two seasons.

With the Oil Kings, Hamilton's primary responsibility has been handling the defence. Over the last 4 seasons he has had a role in the development of a number of players who have been drafted, some of which have already moved on to the pro ranks. Players like Mark Pysyk (BUF), Keegan Lowe (CAR), David Musil (EDM), Martin Gernat (EDM), Cody Corbett (COL), Aaron Irving (NSH), Dysin Mayo (PHX) and Griffin Reinhart (NYI) have all benefited from playing for him.   

"One does not simply..."
Recently I was planning an article on the dynamics of Edmonton's coaching staff and during the research for the story I spoke with a number of current and former players.  
"[Hamilton] is a straight up honest coach," said Curtis Lazar. "He knows how to get the most out of his players and his pre-game speeches and analogies are incredible. You know what is expected from you with 'Hammy' and if you aren't meeting those standards, you'll know. He is a straight shooter and I believe that's how things should be done."

Lazar, the Ottawa Senators 1st round pick in 2013, summed up his thoughts on Hamilton calling him "a true motivator who understands his players better than anyone".

Former captain Rhett Rachinski chimed in with "Hammy is vocal on the bench and an emotional leader."

T.J. Foster spent his entire 5-year WHL career with the Oil Kings and played for original Edmonton coach Steve Pleau. He described Hamilton and Derek Laxdal as having different coaching styles.
Photo: Andy Devlin
"'Hammy' demands respect from his players," Foster started, "They're both good with their players. They both understand the pressures of hockey on younger guys because they're not far removed from playing. 'Hammy' understands that [the players] are young and deserve to be rewarded but he's a business man when it's time to play and he doesn't care who it is or how big a part on the team they play, he'll put them in their place. That aspect of 'Hammy' being involved in the room a lot is a good thing for the guys because it develops that comfort ability."

I asked Foster about Hamilton's legendary in-game speeches that Lazar had mentioned. "Yeah, he's always been the guy to do that; he's smooth with his words and analogies."

You might wonder why Hamilton wasn't snapped up by one of the other WHL teams that also had coaching vacancies this summer. Currently, Vancouver Regina, Moose Jaw and Portland are on the hunt for a new coach while Calgary and Tri-City found new men to take over their vacancies.

Although it was reported that Hamilton withdrew his name from the shortlist with the Giants and "lost out" on the Hitmen job, in reality, he received and declined an offer from both WHL teams.  

I don't know how long ago folks within the Oil Kings organization knew that Derek Laxdal was leaving for the AHL but it's possible that Hamilton learned that the Edmonton job would soon be vacant. That's speculation on my part, turning down both Calgary and Vancouver could have been for different reasons all together.

The bottom line is that Hamilton is seen throughout the WHL as a strong coach and I'm pretty sure no one knows that more than Oil Kings GM Randy Hansch. This is a coach that already has been on the bench for Hockey Canada at the U17, was named the AJHL Coach of the Year twice, has an AJHL Championship, a pair of WHL titles and a Memorial Cup on his resume and he's only 41.

Back on June 14th I had Derek Laxdal as a guest on The Pipeline Show talking about his being named to the Ivan Hlinka bench for Canada. During the interview I asked Laxdal about Steve Hamilton, their working relationship and his opinion of him as a coach. 

"I know he wants to be a head coach," Laxdal began. He went on to describe the way their staff worked together before circling around again to the possibility of Hamilton being in charge of a WHL bench. 

"He's a head coach; he's a great teacher, he's a great motivator, he's a great communicator with the kids," he added, "I wouldn't see why any other team wouldn't want to have him." 

People are always looking for the next generation of player or coach. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Steve Hamilton on the bench one day for Canada at the World U18s or the U20 World Junior Championship and, hopefully starting later this morning, as the head coach for the Edmonton Oil Kings. 

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