Board vows no changes coming for 14-15 season
The Moose Jaw Warriors won't be making any major changes this off season.
© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Assistant coach Mark O'Leary, left, and head coach Mike Stothers will both be back behind the bench next year, while fellow assistant coach Mike Vandenberghe will move on to pursue other interets.
They hope that will make a big difference in the standings.
General manager Alan Millar and head coach Mike Stothers were both given a vote of confidence by the Warriors board of directors after the team concluded the WHL season with a 21-42-3-6 record.
"We've got two great men and their support staff is phenomenal," said Warriors president Chad Taylor. "We're happy with what they've done with the organization. It keeps growing. We have to recognize that we're a young team and we're going to have our challenges. We think we have two good men to lead us going forward.
"We're very well-respected in the hockey world and it's thanks to those guys. They do a good job."
The Warriors will miss the playoffs for the second straight season, but the board is showing patience in Millar and Stothers and have faith that they're the right men moving forward.
"Wins and losses are great, but you also have to recognize that you're trying to grow. We have to recognize that we completed a cycle of core players and that's what we're trying to do now — get that core group of players and build around them," said Taylor. "The WHL is so competitive. Everyone is good. You have to do things the right way. You have to build through the draft and develop your players. It sucks. It takes time, but I think when we look back in a few years I think we'll be happy with what we've done."
Millar said he appreciates the support of the board and feels their backing allows him to work towards his long-term vision for the team instead of trying to cut corners in the process.
"In the situation that we're in and the challenges that we face two years out of the playoffs I've had nothing but support in terms of how we're doing things," said Millar. "Sometimes in the game, owners or managers can get caught up in short-term fixes. The board has never done anything but support me, our team and our coaching staff in terms of getting it right. They don't want to just get by. They don't want this team to be in what I call 'junior hockey purgatory' where the team is just getting by and just getting into the playoffs. That's not what we want.
"I've had nothing but tremendous support in terms of turning this thing around and getting it right."
Part of getting it right has been a revamping of the scouting operations. The Warriors have scouts in four American states and are making a stronger push to attract wherever they can find it.
"We want to be involved in all territories," said Millar. "We feel we have the building here, we have the people here, we have the facilities here and we feel we have the community here. It's not like the old days when people questioned coming to Moose Jaw. People want to play here.
"I only know one way to try to try to turn this thing around. That's to be patient. That's to go back to our roots in terms of scouting and in terms of player development."
While Mike Vandenberghe decided to leave the team at the close of the season, Millar was clear where the current coaches stood.
"There's no changes with our coaching staff. Mike Stothers is our head coach and Mark O'Leary will be promoted," said Millar. "We know where we're at as a team and we know what the challenges are as a team moving forward. These are the guys that Iw want to get it done with. I have full confidence in Mike Stothers for his coaching ability and his hockey ability. Equally or more important how he cares about his players, how he cares about this team and this community is invaluable. He's big, he's tough, he's challenges our players. He's demanding, but he has a heart as big as this room."
Stothers said the public vote of confidence is always nice, but wasn't necessary.
"I've never doubted that from any of them anyway," said Stothers. "(Millar) has been nothing but supportive since day 1. He knows the drill. People that are in the hockey world, they know. The board themselves have been nothing but terrific. They support us and try to help. They always ask 'how can we help?' Whether it's an upgrade to equipment or whatever we need."
The Warriors remain the only team to have fired Mike Babcock after the Canadian Olympic team coach failed to get them into the playoffs in his second season in charge. They've moved away from making those kinds of knee-jerk reactions in the last decade or more.
It has been the same league-wide, but showing patience has been a mixed back in terms of rewards.
Swift Current GM/head coach Mark Lamb guided his team into the playoffs in consecutive seasons after missing in back-to-back years. Guy Charron's Kamloops Blazers were swept in the playoffs in his first two seasons and missed the playoffs in his third before going on two good playoff runs in the past two seasons.
On the flip side Lethbridge GM/head coach Rich Preston was in charge for four seasons and the Hurricanes didn't make the playoffs in any of them. Prince George Cougars general manager Dallas Thompson has been at the helm for 10 seasons despite the fact that the Cougars haven't won a playoff game in seven years.
Millar firmly believes that building through the draft and developing players is the best path and he's willing to endure the growing pains, even if it pains him to do so.
"The biggest mistake teams make, all across the board, is that ownership puts managers and coaches in a position to save their job not do their job. I can't say enough about the board in terms of giving me the flexibility to do my job right and not worry about having to save it," said Millar.
It's safe to say that Warriors fans were growing impatient as the team struggled through a second straight 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference.
The Warriors season ticket base surpassed 3,000 for the second straight season and averaged a paid attendance of 3,613, but the number of people who passed through the doors at Mosaic Place was consistently well below the announced crowds.
"We do have our challenges. Unfortunately, the walk-up gate is down considerably. We're going to have to work to keep our fans excited for next year. We're going to have to sell some hope," said Taylor. "I always about attendance. It's not like this club hasn't been there before. It's our job to prove that we deserve their support. We have a very good core group of season ticket holders. Hopefully we have a good start and people come out and see the difference."
Tribe tidbits … the Warriors signed Blake Bargar to a WHL contract Monday. Bargar was the Warriors seventh round pick in the 2013 WHL bantam draft. The 5-10, 1998-born centre is from Torrance, Calif. but spent last season with the Arizona Bobcats 98 AAA team.