Homecoming for ex-67's coach

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Vince Malette will be right at home when he stands behind the visitors bench at the Civic Centre tonight.

He may also be fighting back some tears.

The rookie coach of the defending OHL champion Peterborough Petes brings a 1-1 team to Ottawa for the 67's home opener. If having 12 first-year players in the lineup doesn't present challenge enough, Malette will have to fight distractions from the non-slippery side of the boards.

For the previous nine seasons, he served as Brian Kilrea's assistant coach, along with Bert O'Brien.

"I'm looking forward to it ... I spent a lot of years in that building," Malette said yesterday. "I'm very grateful to Brian. I learned a lot from him, and not just about the game, but things like respecting people, getting to know them.

"He'd do that in every city we'd be in. Outside of my mom and dad, he's probably had the biggest influence on who I am.

'EMOTIONAL'

"It's going to be emotional, going to the other side of the rink. I have the utmost respect for my two friends who will be behind the other bench. They've been a big part of my life.

"But when the puck drops at 7:30, I'll be competing against them and they'll be competing against me. It'll be up to the 20 players on the teams to see who comes up with the victory."

Malette didn't want to uproot his family to take the Petes job, as he has a daughter in her first year of university and another in her first year of high school. A friend of 67's trainer Brian Patafie set him up in a waterfront place not far from the rink, and Malette travels back to his Ottawa home when he has the chance.

Along with watching sunrises and sunsets, he contemplates a Peterborough lineup that is without Jordan Staal (still at Pittsburgh Penguin camp) and has four players from last season's team (Scott Cowie, Arturs Kulda, Justin Caruana and Mark Pawlowski) out with injuries.

"We know this is a tough part of the schedule," said Malette, who earned his first OHL win Saturday in Belleville after a loss to Brampton. "We have some young guys who are going to have to be committed to hard work. We played hard in Belleville (for the 4-2 victory). I was proud of the effort."

Malette knows of 120 friends and family who have bought tickets for tonight's game, but they'll be only a small segment of a crowd rooting for the 67's to pull off their first win to erase a 9-5 loss in Kingston last week.

As of yesterday, more than 8,000 tickets had been sold for the game, and the 67's are hoping for a big walkup crowd to take advantage of a 2-for-1 offer that will get them into Sunday's game against the Frontenacs for free.

Making his first OHL start tonight for the 67's will be 17-year-old Swiss goalie Lukas Flueler.

"I'd tell him to just enjoy it," Senators goalie Martin Gerber said yesterday when asked what advice he'd give his young countryman for his debut. "Just to keep working as you do, to try your best and have fun."

Flueler will benefit from the return to the lineup of overage defenceman Joe Grimaldi, who's back from the New York Islanders camp, as well as a rested-and-ready-to-go Derek Joslin.

"It's important for us to get off on the right foot in front of our fans," Kilrea said of the game.

As for the coach behind the Petes bench, he added:

"I'm happy for Vince, but not happy enough that I want him to win."


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