Bannister exit is timely

Randy Russon
June 9, 2018

Season by season by season, three of them in total, Soo Greyhounds climbed the Ontario Hockey League ladder under head coach Drew Bannister.

Higher, higher and higher, the Greyhounds went with Bannister at the helm, going from seventh place in the Western Conference to second to first. In fact, not only did the Greyhounds place first in the Western Conference in 2017-2018 but they finished atop the OHL’s overall standings.

From a regular season record of 33-27-8 in 2015-2016 to 48-16-4 in 2016-2017 to 55-7-6 in 2017-2018, the Greyhounds enjoyed progression and success with Bannister behind the bench. To be sure, a three-year regular season record of 136-50-18 serves as a strong showing of Bannister’s ability as a coach.

In the playoffs, the Bannister-coached Greyhounds made it into the second round in the spring of both of 2016 and 2017 and all the way to the league finals in 2018, only to lose to the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs this time around.

Now, after three seasons as coach of the OHL team that he starred for as a defenseman during the Greyhounds OHL and Memorial Cup championship years of 1991, 1992 and 1993, Bannister is set to begin his professional coaching career.

Bannister is headed south to become head coach of the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. San Antonio is about to enter its first season as the top farm club of the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.

The timing is right for Bannister to move on from the Greyhounds and the OHL and take a step closer to coaching in the NHL.

Save for winning the OHL championship as the top-ranked team this past season, Bannister did just about all he could as coach of the Greyhounds. Really, his leaving the OHL for the AHL is good for him and for the Greyhounds.

As outstanding a job as Bannister did with the Greyhounds, the fact that they were upset by Hamilton in the OHL finals this spring did not sit well with many of the Soo’s more ardent fans. Thus, instead of coming back for a fourth season with the Greyhounds and having to hear about how the Soo should have defeated Hamilton, Bannister gets to leave town with a very good win-loss record and the opportunity to get closer to his goal of coaching in the NHL.

At 44 years of age, Bannister has a lot of coaching ahead of him. And it says a lot about his coaching skills that St. Louis wasn’t the only NHL organization that talked to Bannister about coming to work for it.

While some in Houndtown were critical of Bannister and his laid-back approach that did not include being a rah-rah guy, his even-keeled way of coaching and dealing with fans and the media served the Greyhound organization well.

A coach does not have to be loved or liked to be successful as long as there is respect and players give what they have.

Not that Bannister is perfect or close to it. But he is a rising coach in the eyes of many at the pro level and that counts for a lot.

Without getting gushy or overly-emotional — that just isn’t his style — Bannister reflected on his three seasons in the Soo as coach of the Greyhounds in a matter-of-fact, respectful manner.

“The Soo Greyhounds are a great organization, and along with the media and fans, make this such a great place to play and coach junior hockey. I will be forever grateful for my time in Sault Ste. Marie,” he stated.

So, off goes a coach who steadily improved himself and his team over a three year period.

Bannister may have lacked the fire and ability to inspire of previous Greyhound coaches such as Terry Crisp and Ted Nolan. But like coaches Craig Hartsburg and Sheldon Keefe before him, Bannister brought a winning attitude and league-wide respect to Houndtown.

Now, just shy of winning the OHL championship, the Greyhounds can begin another OHL chapter with a new head coach. As Bannister is headed to the pro ranks, so too are many of the Greyhounds graduated players.

The new coach will inherit a number of skilled, younger players that should at least keep the Greyhounds in Western Conference contention as the next season of OHL play begins in, oh, about three months time.

What you think about “Bannister exit is timely”

  1. Great article Randy and spot on analysis of an incredible coach! Averaging 45 wins in his 3 year tenure is a remarkable achievement and we were fortunate to have a consummate pro at the helm! I reflect back to his playing career and he was one of my favourite Hounds back then! I always favoured the defensemen over the flamboyant goal scorers , as we all know defence wins titles and championships! In my book Drew is right up there on my list with Chris Felix, Craig Hartsburg,Tim Hoover, Jake Muzzin,Mark Matier, Brad Tiley, Gary Roach, Jordan Smith ,Darnell Nurse to mention just a few! A quiet leader through his play, never demonstrative, always steady and just plain made great decisions on the ice! One of my favourite moments was his huge OT GWG back in the 1993 Super Series vs Peterborough that propelled the Hounds into a guaranteed Memorial Cup berth! As they say, the rest is history!
    I’m sure there were frictions in the room with certain players, there always is ,but in the big picture he prepared many young men for a future in hockey and likely life. We will see several more players have their dreams realized in the upcoming draft and more than likely through the tutelage of Drew Bannister and Joe Cirella these players will be indebted to these previous NHL defencemen.

  2. Reading the list of names Chris has mentioned, in his recollections of Greyhounds of the past, brought back some nice memories for us. (Sort of a ‘where are they now?’ thing.) Among the players of the past that he remembers is Tim Hoover (#10). Tim’s dad, Richard, worked with me here in North Bay, for the old DHO (now MTO). We watched Tim’s progress through the hockey ranks, right up to his days with the Soo (early-mid 80’s?). One fond memory we have is the night the Soo played Bert T’s Centennials, and after the game, Tim brought his autographed game stick to us to give to our admiring niece in Toronto. A classy gesture we thought. (Darryl Sittler’s younger brother, also a Tim, did the same for us on a different occasion.)
    Anyway, Tim’s family later returned to TO, where his dad copped a nice promotion, and, unfortunately, our family contacts petered out, as is so often the case. We do occasionally wonder where Tim is now, and where his hockey days may have led him. Hope he’s doing well – wherever and whatever.
    Thanks for refreshing some good old memories.

  3. Bannister’s record is proof of his ability to inspire players…..come on here……..and no mention he won three game sevens in the playoffs …..never lost a game seven with the Hounds……as for loosing to Hamilton……..two grueling seven game series against owen sound and kithchener wore them down……..put the lost series to hamilton squarely on the shoulders of Raftis where it belongs………he didnt keep up with his rival GM’s in the trade market…we needed to fill the overager position and add more depth………he should have traded more draft picks…….who cares if we make it to the second round of the playoffs next year……we had all the pieces to go the memorial cup this year……only thing cost us was a young GM…..25 years since last trip to mem cup………….this team had everything but depth…….a hard earned lesson for our GM…….the kids this year and coach were true champions…….if we added six players like hamilton or Givani Smith , Kole Sherwood, and Logan Brown like Kitchener………we would be talking about how we did in Regina…………..tough tough lesson…….winning two game sevens against Kithchener and Owen Sound proved the Championship character of this years Hounds………Raftis should be commended for assembling a good part of the roster and selecting Bannister to coach the squad……..he just missed the final layer the team needed………he wont forget next time if and when……

  4. i disagree with you totally brian. Raftis should get all the credit. Not that Bannister is not a good coach but he had a buffet of star players . On paper the soo should have rolled over Hamilton. Bannister could not make the ingame adjustments necessary to overcome the tenacious forechecking the Hamilton team threw at the soo. Again i am not bashing Bannister but i do believe that he inherited a roster that many coaches can only dream about. Good luck to Drew but the job that Raftis has done since taking over from Dubas has been sensational.

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