Head coach Dale Hunter finally has company behind the London Knights bench.
Less than three weeks before training camp starts, the Knights have hired assistant coaches Dave Gagner and Petrolia native Todd Bidner as replacements for Jacques Beaulieu and Jeff Perry.
The 41-year-old Gagner, who hails from Chatham and played 16 NHL seasons as a point-producing forward, will be in charge of London's defence. His skilled son Sam will be a rookie forward for the Knights this year.
"Defence is what I've been doing the past few years so it's a good fit," said Gagner, who helped coach a high school team in Minnesota last season after four years on the bench of his son's Toronto Marlies minor hockey squad. "I knew coaching was something I wanted to try when I was done playing and this was an outstanding opportunity. I enjoy coaching puck-movement hockey and I loved watching how Dale and the Knights ran their offence the past few years. That's the kind of hockey I want to coach."
London GM Mark Hunter shrugged when asked if Dave Gagner would've been hired if Sam hadn't committed to playing for the Knights.
"I'm just happy to have both of them," he said. "Dave brings a lot of experience and it wasn't all good stuff -- he had to go through a few bumps in the road, too. He knows what it's like to be sent to the minors. Hockey's a tough game -- it can be a roller-coaster when you're dealing with young men who will go through all the ups and downs. Dave will be valuable in helping these kids through it."
Following three OHL seasons with the Toronto Marlboros and a 12-game stint with the Washington Capitals, Bidner, 45, played much of his pro career in England where he often faced off against the familiarly named London Knights -- the British edition.
While in England, Bidner managed to complete a post-secondary education in exercise sciences at the University of Teesside and turned that knowledge into the Skill Shots off-ice development centre for hockey players housed in Sarnia and Michigan.
"I've known the Hunters all my life and at this point, it was a good chance be involved in a winning organization and try to keep that winning going," Bidner said.
As a youngster, Bidner played for teams coached by Dale and Mark Hunter's father Dick and alternated playing on teams with the two brothers. Dale Hunter, who often played summer hockey with Dave Gagner, insisted the Knights have three coaches on the bench again this season.
"You want a third guy because if you're leaning over to say something to a player after a shift, you'll miss part of the play," Hunter said. "This way, Todd can take care of the instructions and it gives me the chance to see everything on the ice. That's important."
The Knights also introduced freshly signed forward David Meckler, a 19-year-old from Highland Park, Ill., and a Los Angeles Kings fifth-rounder this summer who left Yale University and an Ivy League education to play in London. He scored seven goals in 31 games as a freshman last season and popped the shorthanded game-winner in the longest game in NCAA history -- a five-overtime marathon -- against Union College.
"Yale was a great experience and I learned a lot but I want to be a hockey player and I felt this would be the best place to pursue that," the six-foot-one, 195-pounder said. "Hockey's a small world and I heard a lot about London from other players. I'm excited to playing here."