TORONTO - Sitting at Randy (Kitty) Carlyle’s cottage on beautiful Manitoulin Island some five summers ago, Mark Chipman made a prediction to his close friend, one that would prove to be prophetic.
“Kitty,” Chipman said to Carlyle, “you know that one day you are going to be the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Carlyle’s response was short, albeit not sweet.
“No way!” Carlyle responded.
It was the summer of 2007 and Carlyle had just coached the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup championship. Now it was time to celebrate with buddies like Chipman at the summer residence in Ontario that Carlyle returns to every off-season.
Carlyle’s reluctance at the time to picture himself standing behind the Maple Leafs bench was understandable.
Why would he want to be anywhere but Anaheim? His team had just captured hockey’s Holy Grail; youngsters Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were just coming into their own; he had a good working relationship with then-Ducks general manager Brian Burke; and there was just a handful of media to deal with every day.
Sure enough, on Friday, Chipman’s prognostication became reality.
Maybe five years ago Carlyle wasn’t ready to handle the spotlight and accompanying pressures that go hand and hand with a Toronto franchise that has not won a Cup since 1967.
But according to Chipman, he is now.
“I think, back then when he and the Ducks won the Cup, he was very comfortable where he was, coaching in a place where he could concentrate on just coaching without all the distractions you might find in a place like Toronto,” Chipman, the principal owner of the Winnipeg Jets, recalled during a phone interview on Monday.
“Since then, I’ve seen him get more comfortable with the other aspects of the job, including dealing with the media. Now, with him being back in Toronto, it’s kind of like a homecoming for him. He’s an Ontario kid. He was drafted by the Leafs. He played for the Leafs. He knows what it means.”
When it comes to Carlyle’s coaching history, few know it better than Chipman.
Back in 1996, after the Jets had bolted to Phoenix, Chipman headed a group that brought the IHL’s Minnesota franchise to Winnipeg, where it was renamed the Manitoba Moose.
Not long afterward, he helped persuade Carlyle, a former Jets player, broadcaster and longtime Winnipeg resident, to move behind the bench.
“We asked him if he’d like to coach,” Chipman said. “He actually started as an assistant. By February, he’d taken over as head coach.”
Carlyle would lead the Moose to a 222-159-52-7 record, both in the IHL and AHL. When the opportunity came to coach the Ducks, he jumped at it and eventually led the franchise to its only title.
Since starting his coaching career, Carlyle has never had a season with a losing record. At least that was the case until 2011-12 when he was fired from his position in Anaheim after his Ducks got off to a sluggish 7-13-4 start.
According to Chipman, there is much more to Carlyle than the stern-faced figure fans see behind the bench.
“Randy has been successful wherever he’s coached and some of that has to do with his hockey IQ,” Chipman said. “Randy sees things in the game others don’t. At the same time, he’s learned a lot from other hockey people over the years like the late John Ferguson Sr. He can give the impression he’s hard-headed but, in reality, he’s always listening and learning.
“Randy coaches the way he lives his life — with attention to detail.”
Interestingly friend has become foe for Carlyle, whose Leafs now are chasing Chipman’s Jets for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. You can bet Carlyle was glued to the tube Monday night watching the Jets take on the Buffalo Sabres.
Whatever happens, Chipman will always remember a headline that appeared after Carlyle’s Ducks won the Cup. It was a quote that Carlyle had uttered during his playing days when asked if he would ever coach.
“No (@#%&) way!” was Carlyle’s answer at the time.
Now, not only is Carlyle a coach, he is the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Just like Mark Chipman predicted five years ago.
HOME SWEET HOME
Since being hired as Maple Leafs coach on Friday, Randy Carlyle has been peppered with messages from relatives and buddies he didn’t even know he had.
Such is the fate of an Ontario native and ex-Maple Leafs player who has come back to take over his former team.
“I didn’t realize that I had so many friends that had the area code 416, 905 and 647,” Carlyle chuckled on Monday, referring to the Toronto-area area codes from which he has received countless text and phone messages.
Carlyle and his wife, Corey, are from the Sudbury area and have summered at their cottage on Manitoulin Island since 1979. As far as family goes, he has a sister who lives in Toronto, his hockey home for a second time.
“There are lots of ties with the Ontario market,” Carlyle said, looking at the gaggle of media surrounding him after practice Monday at the MasterCard Centre. “And obviously with the number of cameras that are here today and the number of you people, there’s lots of coverage and exposure to the Leafs.”
Carlyle admits his gut will be churning a bit on Tuesday when he makes his Air Canada Centre debut as head coach of the Leafs against the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. In the minds of many Leaf fans, they only hope it will end up being a case of the prodigal son coming home.