Soo Greyhounds may have assembled a dream team but will they awake as champions of the Ontario Hockey League in May?…Sudbury Wolves of the OHL need to get it right when hiring their next head coach…The coach-general manager of the Detroit Fighting Irish of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League is a fan of the style of play of the Canadian International Hockey League…
It’s been written here, it’s been written over there.
After recently adding two impact forwards, a high-scoring, point-per-game defenceman and an overage defender who captained his former team, Soo Greyhounds have emerged as favourites to win the 2014-2015 OHL championship.
The Hounds will first have to get out of a wicked Western Conference that includes the Erie Otters and then have to deal with the best of the Eastern Conference before booking any flights to Quebec City, where the Remparts will play host to the 2015 Memorial Cup tournament that is slated for May 22-31.
While the Hounds certainly have a stacked squad, my question is whether head coach Sheldon Keefe can mesh all of that world-class talent that spans Canada, Russia and the United States into a team-first champion.
With a roster deep in high National Hockey League draft picks, Keefe as coach is no longer the star of this Greyhound team. Can he handle that — and can he handle all of the egos that are now residing in the Hound house?
It says here that long-time employee Blaine Smith has done a pretty-good job overall in the four-plus seasons since adding the general manager’s duties to his role as president of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.
Smith has drafted and traded well as Wolves GM but his track record in hiring head coaches has been ho-hum at best.
Trent Cull was Smith’s first hire and after three seasons, he took a step back to his former position as an assistant coach with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.
Replacing Cull at the start of the 2013-2014 campaign was Paul Fixter and the former Kitchener Rangers assistant looked lost as an OHL head coach — and was fired midway through this 2014-2015 season despite being owed big bucks on the remainder of his multi-year contract. Not only did Fixter apparently lose the Wolves dressing room with his arrogant, know-it-all ways, he became a reminder that being a good assistant coach does not always lead to becoming a good head coach.
Smith’s latest hire as Wolves head coach — albeit on an interim basis — is David Matsos, who was promoted from assistant following the recent firing of Fixter.
Matsos may or may not be the right man for the job on a full-time basis — and it is up to Smith to determine that.
If Smith decides to start fresh, he should have no shortage of qualified candidates with head-coaching success.
One veteran who I hope Smith considers adding to the Wolves staff — either as head coach or assistant to Matsos — is former Saginaw Spirit and Windsor Spitfires bench boss Moe Mantha.
Mantha, who grew up in northern Ontario, was a star defenceman in the OHL who went on to play in close to 700 NHL games.
Yes, his stint in Windsor ended following the unfortunate Steve Downie-Akim Aliu incident of 2005.
But Mantha has since been a minor-pro assistant and is now the coach-general manager of the Michigan Warriors of the North American Hockey League. In four previous seasons with the Warriors, Mantha has coached them to two North Division playoff titles and two appearances at the NAHL’s national championship tournament.
It says here that the 53-year old Mantha is someone who could bring a lot to the Wolves coaching staff — as the head or assistant.
IRISH EYES ON THE CIHL
Detroit Fighting Irish of the Midwest Jr. Hockey League recently competed in a showcase tournament that was hosted by the Canadian International Hockey League.
And Dan Vasquez, who coaches and manages the Fighting Irish — one of the top teams in the MWJHL — came away impressed with the style of play of the CIHL. In fact, Vasquez is of the notion that future games against CIHL teams will aid in the development of his players.
“Our club needs to play teams in that environment more often. As I stated in the past I am a big fan of the small-game style of hockey and all of the teams at the (CIHL) tournament were very well instructed in that side of the game. Our club would have no problem playing with them every night and it would be so much better for the development of our players,” Vasquez told HockeyNewsNorth.com.