Reigning Ontario Hockey League champion Hamilton Bulldogs have promoted from within to replace graduated head coach John Gruden, Hockey News North has confirmed.
David Matsos, who was the Bulldogs associate coach when Hamilton hammered its way to OHL glory in 2017-2018, takes the helm from Gruden, who landed a job as assistant coach with the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League earlier this summer.
The elevation of Matsos to replace Gruden was somewhat expected.
Matsos was brought in to Hamilton from the Sudbury Wolves as the hand-picked choice of Bulldogs president and general manager Steve Staios prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season.
To be sure, the 44-year old Matsos — who won a Memorial Cup as a player with the Soo Greyhounds in 1993 — has serious experience as an OHL coach in addition to the championship season that he spent in Hamilton.
Besides four full seasons in Sudbury — two and a half as head coach and a season and a half as associate — Matsos was an assistant with the Windsor Spitfires for three years.
And before that, Matsos was a head coach at the professional level in Sheffield, England for four years.
Matsos also has a clean reputation as a respected, respectful individual who relates well to players.
Staios commented on the promotion of Matsos to head coach of the Bulldogs.
“Dave came in last year and was a massive part of our championship season,” Staios began. “He has the respect of our players and has an understanding of our team identity.”
Matsos noted the perspective that the Hamilton franchise has.
“The Bulldogs have a vision in place from ownership all the way down.” says Matsos. “With this being my ninth year in the league, I am confident I know our players, the league and have what it takes to have success.
“When I came into Hamilton and joined this staff I think there was a vision in place and, you know, these guys really held up to their end of the bargain,” Matsos added. “Love the city, love the team, love the colours, everything. I’m really, really excited to accept and take this position.”
Meanwhile, as Matsos moves up to head coach, Vince Laise has been promoted from assistant coach of the Bulldogs to associate coach.
As for Matsos the player, he spent his entire four-year OHL career as a hustling winger with the aforementioned Greyhounds. His best season was his last — when the Soo won the Memorial Cup in 1993 — when, playoffs included, Matsos tallied 40 goals in 73 games.
Matsos then went on to play three professional seasons in the American Hockey League. He finished his pro playing career overseas, spanning seven years.
PHOTO: Hamilton Bulldogs coach David Matsos.