Hard to say goodbye

Matthew Gourlie
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Stothers: it's hard to leave Moose Jaw

It may seem like an easy decision: leave a junior team that has missed the playoffs two years running to take a professional job in an organization that has won two of the last three Stanley Cups.

Mike Stothers spoke to the media at a Thursday press conference after accepting the head coaching job with the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs on Tuesday.

All you had to do was look at Mike Stothers' face Thursday to see how hard it was for him to leave Moose Jaw.

The former head coach Moose Jaw Warriors was emotional when he talked about his decision to leave the Warriors and take a new post with the Los Angeles Kings American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester.

"It's been a terrific three years. I've enjoyed every minute of it," said Stothers. "As excited as I am to move on, it's tough. The community means a lot to me, the Warriors mean a lot to me and (GM Alan Millar) means a lot to me.

"I'm very excited for the opportunity, but Moose Jaw is a special place."

Stothers spent three seasons with the Warriors and his teams posted a 91-97-13-15 record over that span. The team advanced to the Eastern Conference final in his first season in charge before losing to the Edmonton Oil Kings in five games.

Stothers had coached for three different AHL teams, was an assistant in the NHL and a head coach in the OHL, but his time in Moose Jaw has a special place in his heart.

"It's amazing how a small town grows on you," said Stothers. "I'm a Toronto guy, but I like the small town. I like the smaller market. Part of Moose Jaw's beauty is that you're the underdog because you're a smaller market. You maybe don't get the respect that you deserve in this league.

"I could tell it was going to be a good fit for my wife and I and then it just morphed into something bigger, that I never expected from a small community. Until you get to experience life here in Moose Jaw you don't know how special it is."

Millar praised Stothers for the way he taught his players to be professionals, to play the game with a high work ethic and helped mould them into quality young men.

"This is not a negative. This is great for Mike. This is great for our program. This is what the CHL, the Western Hockey League … is all about: developing players and developing people to get to a higher level," said Millar, who noted that more than one NHL team contacted him to ask permission to talk to Stothers.

Stothers acknowledged that there had been overtures to see if he wanted to return to the pro ranks a year ago, but he said it was going to take a special offer for him to leave Moose Jaw.

""It's not something I was actively pursuing. It had to be the right fit going forward," he said. "The biggest thing was that I was, and am, very happy and I wasn't looking for the next opportunity. I really liked what we have going on here. I feel really strongly that this is going to be a really good team here. They're going to reward the patience that has been shown."

The offer to join the Kings organization was just too tempting to turn down. They been one of the most successful NHL franchises in recent years and Stothers also has ties to the organization. Mike Futa, the Kings co-director of amateur scouting, is Stothers' old GM from his time with Owen Sound in the OHL. Kings associate head coach John Stevens has played with, been coached by, and coached with Stothers.

"There's a comfort level with a couple of people in that organization that you don't often get. When you get that opportunity you explore it to the fullest," said Stothers. "Opportunities to work with good people and with people you're familiar with don't always come along."

Millar said that given how well respected Stothers is in the hockey world, he knew this day would come eventually. He said it was Stothers' professionalism that will have the biggest lasting impact on the franchise moving forward.

"I think we raised the bar in terms of what our organization is all about, what our player environment is and the way we look after players," said Millar. "I've never had a head coach look after the billeting. Mike wanted to deal with the billets. He took that on from the moment he got here and he did it because he wanted to make sure the players were looked after the right way."

Millar also praised Stothers and his wife Judi for the work they've done in the community with the Moose Jaw Humane Society and the Salvation Army Christmas drive.

"Those are the values that we strive for in our players and those are the values that he taught our players over the last three years," Millar said.

"I hope that they've learned a little bit about the game," said Stothers. "I'm not a fan of shortcuts and I'm not a big fan of a lack of work ethic. There's some life skills that go along with these young men — whether they play pro or not. Hopefully they've learned to be better people in the community whatever they go on to do.

"Moose Jaw is going in the right direction. Under (Millar's) direction this team is going to get better and better and better. There will be a Memorial Cup through here — I'm not going put a date on it, but the guy in charge is getting it going in the right direction."

Organizations: Western Hockey League, Los Angeles Kings American Hockey League, Edmonton Oil Kings

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Manchester, Toronto

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