January 30, 2012
Oilers: The Next Generation
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
OKLAHOMA CITY - Is the next Oilers head coach here?
Or the next Edmonton general manager, too?
Steve Tambellini, as first reported in the Edmonton Sun, is expected to be extended for another year or two as general manager. And Tom Renney will likely get a similar extension as coach if the Oilers return and play the way the team did for him in the last two games after the players contemplated the concept of him coaching from the edge of a cliff for the rest of the season.
But the Oilers aren’t just growing their own future players on the farm.
“The Oilers are developing everybody here. Coaches. Trainers. Everybody,” said GM Bill Scott.
“I think it’s an exciting time for Oilers hockey. The talent for the future coming into the system is very strong. I’m very excited to be part of the rebuilding process,” said coach Todd Nelson of what he sees as an excellent situation to develop himself into a future NHL coach.
“I think it’s a fantastic situation to grow with a real opportunity to succeed here.
“The staff here is phenomenal. I have two assistant coaches and a GM who are up and comers.
“We’re no different than the players. We’re all young.”
Nelson is 42.
Assistant coaches Gerry Fleming and Rocky Thompson are 45 and 34 respectively.
And GM Scott is 31.
“Todd has been successful wherever he’s been,” said Scott. “He won two championships with Muskegon. He won another with John Anderson with the Chicago Wolves. He expects to win and does it. He has a lot of credibility in the room.”
Nelson coached the Barons to a 40-29-11 record last year and has his team first overall in the 30-team American Hockey League with a 39-11-5 record this year as he headed to coach the Western Conference team in the All-star Game in Atlantic City.
Nelson spent the previous two seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers as an assistant. Prior to that, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach for the Chicago Wolves where he won the 2008 Calder Cup.
A native of Prince Albert, Sask., who played five seasons for the Raiders in the WHL, Nelson made the transition to coaching as a player/assistant coach with the Muskegon Fury of the USHL.
He spent a season as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL before returning to Muskegon to make his head coaching debut in 2003-04, leading the team to back-to-back 50-win seasons and two Colonial Cup championships.
As a player, Nelson was a fourth-round pick of the Penguins, 79th overall. He played pro for 12 years, including cups of coffee with Pittsburgh and Washington in the NHL. He spent two years playing in Europe, one in Berlin and the other in Helsinki. But most of his time was spent in the AHL with the Portland Pirates, Hershey Bears, Rochester Americans and Grand Rapids.
Nelson won a Calder Cup in 1994 playing in Portland.
He has a big believer in Doug Sauter, the second winningest coach in hockey history to Scotty Bowman (but only a handful of wins ahead of Brian Kilrea).
“I really like the whole coaching staff. They’re great guys and very good coaches with three totally different personalities,” said Sauter, the old WHL coach with Medicine Hat, Regina and Brandon who had pro coaching stops in Wheeling, Springfield and Winston-Salem before spending 15-years here with the CHL Oklahoma City Blazers.
Assistant coach Gerry Fleming came here with Nelson last year after eight seasons as a head coach in the ECHL, seven with the Florida Everglades including back-to-back trips to the ECHL Kelly Cup finals in 2004 and 2005. He broke into coaching as an assistant with Montreal’s AHL Fredericton franchise after an entire playing career in the Canadiens system, making it up for 11 games with the NHL team.
Rocky Thompson is more than familiar to Edmonton fans, having played for the AHL Edmonton Roadrunners during the lockout year and spending the 2009-10 season as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oil Kings. The former Golden Gloves champion boxer and former WHL player with Medicine Hat and Swift Current was an enforcer throughout his 10-year pro career including 591 games, 25 of which were in the NHL with Calgary (15) and Florida (10).
“I couldn’t be any happier with a staff than the one I have here. I think we have the best staff in the league with the assistant coaches, the week-long visits once a month by Billy Moores and Mike Sillinger overseeing player development,” said Nelson adding people like skills and skating coach Steve Serdachny, goalie coach Freddie Chabot, assistant GM and director of hockey operations Ricky Olczyk and pro scout Dave Semenko, all of whom were here this week.
“The Oilers are trying to run this like an NHL team. It has to be at the top of the league. I’ve been with two other AHL organizations and it wasn’t anything like this,” said Nelson.
The Barons also have their own hockey operations general manager in Scott, one of only five provided by the NHL teams of the 30 teams in the league.
Scott was hired by Tambellini as GM last season after serving the four previous years working as director of hockey operations for the AHL.
His duties included the creation of the league schedule, dishing out player fines and suspensions, supervising playoff games and interpreting bylaws and the collective bargaining agreement for the clubs.
Nelson, who hails from Unionville, Ont., worked as a student manager with the Michigan State Spartans the year they hosted the Cold War first outdoor game which inspired the NHL Heritage Classic in Edmonton and subsequent NHL Winter Classics.
Graduating in 2003 with a degree in business management, he got his start in pro hockey as an intern with the Nashville Predators before moving to the ECHL as manager of hockey operations for three seasons.
“I had a really enjoyable time in the league offices.
“As a player I didn’t play at the pro level but I really wanted to stay in hockey. In the league jobs, I was able to see how all 30 NHL teams worked, how each NHL team was run. My goal has always been to be an NHL general manager.
“When the Oilers were working on setting up this project, I reached out to Steve Tambellini. We share a lot of the same philosophies and I really believe in the rebuild.
“And it’s a really good fit in OKC. It’s a really fun situation to be in.”
The last word goes to 39-year-old captain Bryan Helmer.
“I tell the young guys ‘Appreciate Todd, Gerry and Rocky. They are three of the better coaches I’ve had in this league.’ ”