High-end coaches with a Soo side

June 7, 2015

Two coaches with a Sault Ste. Marie background are moving up a level and a third is poised to advance in the ranks. They are:


Fortier, who played minor hockey in Soo, Ontario before leaving town to play junior in Espanola and then Newmarket, has been making a coaching name for himself over the past couple of seasons in Toronto.

The 40-year old Fortier, who coached the Toronto Patriots to back-to-back Ontario Jr. Hockey League championships in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, has landed a top assistant’s job with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League.

Fortier, who as a player was a rugged winger who could score and chuck the knuckles, was in demand shortly after the 2014-2015 season ended when his Toronto juniors lost out at the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, Central Canada Championship Tournament that was won by the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.


The 41-year old Blashill has a dream job lined up as head coach of the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings as the hand-picked, groomed replacement to Mike Babcock.

Blashill, who was born in Detroit, moved to Soo, Michigan as a youngster and played hockey there from the ages of 9 to 16.

A goalie as a player, Blashill stopped pucks in the United States Hockey League and at the Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association level before turning to coaching at age 26.

As a head coach, Blashill has won championships in the junior-level USHL as well as with the Grand Rapids Griffins, who are the Red Wings American Hockey League affiliate.

Of note, Blashill credits his youth hockey coaches from the Michigan Soo — John Ferroni and Bob Brown — for having huge influences on him in his early life.


In a season that came up short of lofty expectations, the favoured Soo Greyhounds never even made it to the OHL championship series, losing in six games to the Erie Otters in the Western Conference finals.

It was a tough pill for the Greyhounds and their fans to swallow as the dream team that could and should have won the OHL title came up well short.

Which leads us to the question — was OHL coach-of-the-year Keefe of the Greyhounds out-coached by Kris Knoblauch of the Otters?

Most folks who I talk to and hear from in the wake of the Hounds stunning defeat at the hands of the Otters say that there is no doubt in their minds that Keefe did not adjust as the series went on whereas Knoblauch did.

Then there is Erie general manager Sherry Bassin who is telling anyone who will listen that Knoblauch out-coached Keefe.

Bassin, to be sure, knows a thing or two about good coaches from his role as an OHL GM that dates back close to 40 years.

When he was in Oshawa, Bassin had an up-close glimpse as Generals bench boss Paul Theriault clearly out-coached Greyhound headmaster Terry Crisp en route to a championship upset in the 1983 OHL playoffs.

Then, when he was Greyhound GM, Bassin watched as Ted Nolan out-coached Dick Todd of the Peterborough Petes to win the 1993 OHL and Memorial Cup titles.

At any rate, was Keefe out-coached by Knoblauch in this year’s Western Conference finals?

The answer that keeps coming back to me is a resounding “yes.”

Still, the 34-year old Keefe remains highly-regarded as an up-and-coming coach and is in line for a position within the ranks of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

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