Man with a plan

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

Some fans sharing morsels of information, via a website, about the Calgary-Lethbridge playoff series are suggesting relatively unknown Hurricanes boss Lindsay Hofford is a "Mike Keenan-type coach."

Opinions vary as to whether an Iron Mike comparison is a glowing compliment or a scathing I-dare-you-to-say-that-again criticism. Undisputed is the fact Hofford's arrival in Alberta's Windy City 14 months ago instigated a 'Canes revival, a benchmark of Keenan's coaching career.

The continued resurgence this season empowered the Hurricanes with home-ice advantage in their opening-round series against the Hitmen, of whom Lethbridge finished eight points clear of in the WHL Central standings.

It's that stunning reversal of fortune that prompts the comparison, along with a record for being an unyielding disciplinarian who demands results. And gets them.

Hofford chuckles at the notion he's a Keenan disciple but isn't about to drop his gloves at the suggestion, even if some consider it an accusation.

"I'm demanding and expect our kids to work hard and give their best effort, so if that's one of his qualities, that's what I'm like," notes Hofford, 40.

After a lengthy and award-winning stint coaching junior 'A' in Ontario, Hofford was hired by the OHL's London Knights in the summer of 2000.

He was suspended 12 games in his first season for sending a player onto the ice to instigate a fight, a smudge on his record to this day.

"I wasn't really expecting to get suspended, so that was a surprise but that thing kind of took on a life of its own," suggests Hofford, a Sudbury, Ont., native. "It was right around the time Marty McSorley had his incident, so I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Working in London for former NHLers-turned-owners Dale and Mark Hunter, the lineup included Dylan Hunter, son of Dale, and Logan Hunter, nephew to both owners while another nephew, Rick Steadman, was also in the mix.

It was the type of uncomfortable arrangement any coach would want to avoid and Hofford eventually resigned.

"That was a tough grind for me, especially at the time because we were picked for last place that year and, coming up to the trade deadline, we were in fourth place overall and were exceeding expectations by leaps and bounds," Hofford recalls.

"At the trade deadline, we traded away all our better older players, two of our top scorers and our better defenceman who logged about 35 minutes a night, to get a whole bunch of draft picks.

"It was a different situation and they were obviously building for a team that would peak at this time right now. They had their own agenda, they are the owners and could do whatever they want and have been very successful."

Relieved of his head-coaching duties in the fall of 2001, Hofford remained with the club before eventually resigning midway through the 2002-03 season.

Hired by the Hurricanes to replace deposed boss Mikko Makela with just 23 games remaining last season, Hofford used the final two months of the season evaluating what he inherited. Posting a 10-8-5 record down the stretch, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs but were already showing promise.

With a training camp and full season under his influence, Hofford guided the 'Canes to an impressive turnaround, vaulting into second place in the WHL's Central Division with a 39-20-12-1 record.

Despite winning just one of six regular-season contests against Calgary, each loss was a one-goal decision.

"Coaches have an impact on these playoff games but not as big as some people think," says Hofford.

"Most of the coaching for the playoffs is done from the start of the year on, preparing your guys to compete and getting your system in place.

"Once the game starts, it's in the hands of the players."


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