Oil Kings hire top ECHL coach

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

In local hockey terms, this is a man bites dog story.

A Daryl Katz-owned hockey team hired somebody Friday.

At a time when his Edmonton Oilers don't appear to be finished firing people, a time when two of their assistant coaches are still awaiting word if they'll be back and more than a few scouts are headed to Los Angeles for the draft nervous about being part of the purge, there's been an actual hockey hiring here.

No news on a new assistant GM, new trainer, new equipment men, new play-byplay man, new minor league coach, possible new assistant coaches with the Oilers. But the junior Oil Kings have hired a new head coach.

And the hiring of Derek Laxdal, announced Friday, ought not be considered an insignificant happening because the Oil Kings absolutely have to hit the home run with this guy if the return to major junior hockey here is going to result in a franchise with the same success as the Vancouver Giants and Calgary Hitmen in the other NHL markets.

"I think it's huge," said GM Bob Green. "I think this is the one to take us to the next level, to challenge for the league championship and Memorial Cup. It's time to win. Derek is a winner and that's the name of the game."

In their first three seasons back in the WHL, the Oil Kings were 67-116-12-21. They have yet to win a playoff game. The only two home playoff games they've played they lost by scores of 4-1 to Calgary and only drew crowds of 3,501 and 6,387. They lost the two games in Calgary by scores of 5-0 and 2-1 OT in front of crowds of 10,131 and 11,991.

But now, as is the case with the big club in the NHL, there's some talent being assembled here. And the guy coaching them has to start putting up the Ws.

Sherwood Park product Mark Pysyk will likely go late in the first round of next Friday's NHL draft in Los Angeles and likely will be returned to the team for another season with a chance to be the first Oil King to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

Seventeen-year-old centre Michael St. Croix-- son of former NHL goalie Rick St. Croix -- 16-year-old six-foot-four defenceman Griffin Reinhart -- son of former Flame Paul Reinhart -- and 17-yearold goalie Laurent Brossoit all project to be special players.

"We're going to compete for a division and conference title," promised the new coach.

"The foundation is in place here and we have a great group of kids."

Indeed, the Oil Kings are finally set up to make something happen if they have the right guy behind the bench to make it happen.

"I just had a real good feeling that he's a guy who can take this group of young guys and develop them, teach them the game and take them to the next level and make us successful," said Green.

"My decision was made as a result of his background, his experience and his attention to detail. And we've already seen how prepared he is and his attention to detail in the last couple days with us."

Laxdal, you'd have figured, would have been more likely to apply to replace the fired Rob Daum and take over coaching the Oilers' American Hockey League farm club in Oklahoma City.

He comes here after five seasons as the head coach and director of hockey operations with the Idaho Steelheads ECHL franchise in Boise, where he compiled a record of 217-108-35, won the championship in 2007, made it back to the final this year and was named coach of the year. He began his coaching career with the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League in 2002 where he put together an 87-58-5 record.

"I was interested in going to the AHL. But I looked at this job and felt it was a great fit for me."

Laxdal has won a minimum of 40 games every season.

But now it's back to riding the buses in the Dub.

"It's a league I've always been interested in returning to as a coach and this is a good situation with a great group of kids coming where the future is bright," he said.

"I have a lot of patience, I like to play an up-style tempo, I'm pretty laid back," said the veteran of 67 NHL games with the Maple Leafs and Islanders.

"I at least have been able to tell people I played here against Wayne Gretzky," he said.

Born in Gimli and raised in Stonewall, Man., Laxdal won a Memorial Cup as a 16-yearold with the Portland Winter Hawks.

He played five years in the WHL, including time as a New Westminster Bruin and a Brandon Wheat King. He's cool going back to his roots.

"I enjoy going on the bus. With 20 to 25 guys in a small area it's great to build a cohesive team.

"Besides, the buses have changed from when I used to ride them."

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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