Safe hire for Saginaw Spirit

Randy Russon
August 9, 2017

Read between the lines. Read within the lines. Read the messages clear. Any juxtapose aside, the hiring of Troy Smith as the new head coach of the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League is seen as a safe bet.

Whether it’s a coaching colleague or someone who has coached him, Smith is being acclaimed as a good choice to take the reins of the Spirit.

Without question, there are those of high standard who speak highly of Smith as a coach and as a person.

Ask Peter DeBoer, head coach of the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League, about Smith.

Ask Steve Spott, assistant coach of the NHL Sharks, about Smith.

Ask George Burnett, coach-general manager of the OHL Guelph Storm, about Smith.

Ask Stan Butler, coach-general manager of the OHL North Bay Battalion, about Smith..

Ask Mike McKenzie, general manager of the OHL Kitchener Rangers, about Smith.

You can even ask a few folks of ill hockey repute about Smith and the reply is likely to be similar.

Good coach. Good guy. Knows the league. Understands the league. Is willing to learn. Has learned from experience as an OHL player and coach.

To be sure, third-year Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill did his homework on Smith. And no doubt, Drinkill’s homework resulted in more than a passing grade for Smith.

This looms as a safe situation for all concerned.

To reprise, Smith is taking over an up-and-coming OHL team that is on the cusp of success.

In the team’s favour, the 39-year old Smith is a former OHL defenseman who despite his relative youth, has 10-plus seasons of experience as a coach in the league.

A four-year OHLer as a defenseman with the Detroit/Plymouth Whalers, Smith went on to play five seasons at St. Francis Xavier University. After a brief minor pro career, Smith returned to the OHL as a coach and has since put up a decade of experience behind the bench.

After seven seasons as an assistant coach in Kitchener, Smith was promoted to head coach of the Rangers before being let go after two years as bench boss.

Smith has since spent a season-and-a-half as an associate coach with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

Going to Saginaw, Smith takes over from Spencer Carbery, who served one season as Spirit head coach before taking an assistant coach position with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League two weeks ago.

In Smith’s favour, he takes over a Saginaw squad that is seen as a team on the rise in the OHL, thanks to the work of aforementioned GM Drinkill.

While it may not be ready to compete for the top spots in 2017-2018, the Spirit looms as a formidable force for the future with so much young talent.

The roster of 1999 and 2000 birth year players who have already debuted in Saginaw boast promise and potential and includes forwards Brady Gilmour, Cole Coskey, D.J. Busdeker, Damian Giroux and Maxim Grondin and defensemen Hayden Davis and Brock Hill.

Then there are a pair of 2000 birth year dandies who committed to Saginaw during this off season after being draft picks in 2016 — forward Blade Jenkins and defensemen Caleb Everett.

Saginaw has also signed 2017 first-rounder Nick Porco, a 2001 birth-year forward from Sault Ste. Marie who the Spirit took fourth overall at the April 8 minor midget draft.

It’s looking good in Saginaw for Drinkill, Smith and holdover associate coach Chris Lazary.

Looking good for all concerned.

PHOTO: Saginaw Spirit GM Dave Drinkill shakes the hand of new head coach Troy Smith.

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