With the calendar creeping past mid June the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants are being very diligent and patient in their search to fill their head coaching vacancy even though after the weekend all signs point to former NHL character tough guy Tim Hunter as the front runner for the role. It’s been a while since the Giants have needed to partake in an off season coaching search but the club was forced into the position after Don Hay stepped down earlier this spring after 10 seasons on the job in order to return home to coach the Kamloops Blazers for a second stint.
Giants executive vice president and general manager Scott Bonner confirmed to CKNW on Monday afternoon that the 53 year old Hunter had impressed the organization in his interview while also coming to the table with standout recommendations and references from former Canucks teammate Trevor Linden along with former Canucks coach and GM Pat Quinn who’s now a part owner of the Giants. Bonner also hinted that Hunter’s seemingly main competition to this point for the job, Steve Hamilton a current associate coach to Derek Laxdal with the Memorial Cup winning Edmonton Oil Kings had pulled himself out of the running over the weekend for a few unspecified reasons. Speculation for those reasons appear to revolve around the high cost of living in the lower mainland, especially compared to Edmonton. Complicating that fact is that Hamilton has three young children all under the age of 10 years old and likely wasn’t interested in uprooting his family for a small raise that could actually see him earn less money on the high priced west coast by the time all is said and done.
Bonner said a decision will be made sooner rather than later. “In a perfect world we’ll have a coach in place by the NHL draft at the end of this month (June 27-28) in Philadelphia where I’ll be in attendance talking with player agents and trying to sell them and their clients on who our new coach is.”
Hunter is obviously the better known name of the two, having enjoyed a 16 season NHL playing career spanning 815 games with Calgary, Quebec, Vancouver and San Jose. Hunter followed his playing career by jumping right into the coaching ranks, spending the better part of the last 17 seasons as an assistant coach split between Washington, San Jose, Toronto and most recently, a second stint in Washington. Hunter obviously has no experience at the WHL level which raises some red flags as to how he’d adapt to mentoring and teaching teenagers as opposed to professionals. That said Bonner revealed that Hunter took the initiative to test himself and see how he’d enjoy dealing with younger players by spending a very successful 2011/2012 season coaching at the renowned Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, BC. Bonner said that Hunter really enjoyed and excelled in coaching younger players and is eager for a chance to do it at the WHL level.
With Hamilton being the other prime candidate prior to Monday we’ll take a look at his background anyway to see what intrigued the Giants and because stranger eleventh hour twists have occurred. What the 40 year old Hamilton lacks in name recognition he more than makes up for in WHL experience and working with the younger set. Hamilton’s spent the last four-seasons as an associate coach to head man Derek Laxdal with the Edmonton Oil Kings culminating with this past springs Memorial Cup championship. Prior to joining the Oil Kings Hamilton earned valuable head coaching experience with four seasons in the role of Coach and GM of the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints where he earned the leagues coach of the year award in three of those four seasons while leading the team to a championship in 2010. Hamilton’s playing career included three seasons of NCAA hockey with Northern Michigan University.
Bonner admitted that he contacted Travis Green as his first preference as the new coach, the former Portland Winterhawks assistant and current coach of the Canucks AHL affiliate Utica Comets politely declined however, preferring to progress at the AHL level and climb the coaching ranks from that platform. Bonner closely watched Green successfully adapt to his first head coaching role under tough circumstances last season as Green stepped in for Mike Johnston who was suspended by the WHL for the entire season. Green showed poise and moxie in leading a talented Winterhawks club the WHL championship series victory and a Memeorial Cup berth. Bonner said he appreciates Green’s uptempo and confident style of coaching while saying he believes the swagger the former NHL’er brings behind the bench wears off on his players.
Last season the rebuilding Giants enjoyed a bounce back season finishing in seventh spot in the Western Conference standings and where quickly swept in the first round of the playoffs by a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks squad. The Giants look to continue making strides this season and it will be imperative that they hire a patient teacher behind the bench to help develop their young and up and coming talent. It would appear that Bonner and the organization have two excellent candidates to choose from.