Drew Bannister is back to where it all began for him in the Ontario Hockey League.
A top prospect as a big, right-handed shooting defenceman when he first laced on the skates for the Soo Greyhounds 25 years ago, Bannister is now an up-and-coming coach for the only OHL team that he ever played for.
The 41-year old Bannister, who grew up in Sudbury and played his entire four-year OHL career with the Greyhounds, has plied his coaching trade as an assistant with the Owen Sound Attack the past three seasons.
Now, it’s time for the 1993 Memorial Cup champion, all-star defenceman to move up from being an assistant coach to the main man behind the bench.
One of the most polite, well-mannered, well-spoken individuals who I have interviewed in 40 years as a sportswriter and sportscaster, Bannister is viewed as a rising star in the coaching ranks.
Thoughtful and mindful with hockey intelligence as a player, Bannister is said to have brought the same attributes to his coaching profession.
From 176 career games as a National Hockey League defenceman to 10 more years playing overseas until turning to coaching with Owen Sound, Bannister has literally been around the hockey world.
He takes over a Greyhound team that was the best throughout the 2014-2015 regular season only to stumble in the third round of the playoffs when since-departed coach Sheldon Keefe was out-maneuvered by Erie bench boss Kris Knoblauch in a crushing series loss to the Otters.
So while Bannister takes the helm of a Greyhound team that has graduated multiple star players from 2014-2015 to the pro ranks, he also replaces a coach in Keefe who was promoted to a pro job despite coming up short in his final OHL act.
From those who I have talked to and what I have been told, Bannister is the right guy for the Greyhound job, even if he wasn’t the first choice of general manager Kyle Raftis and the team’s hiring committee.
Within the OHL coaching and management inner circle, Bannister is highly regarded and has been deemed ready for the step up from assistant to head coach.
His former bosses in Owen Sound say so and so do some of the men who make hockey decisions for teams such as the Kitchener Rangers and London Knights.
And Raftis and the Greyhound hiring committee obviously think so as well.
While Greyhound fans can expect the team to employ a similar puck-possession style of play under Bannister that was successful under Keefe, they are coaches with opposite personalities.
Keefe has a smug, arrogant way about him and while Bannister is on the quiet side, he is also a friendly, personable, well-grounded kind of guy.
As I tweeted the day before the Greyhounds officially named Bannister as their bench boss, Mark Carlson of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League turned down an offer to become the Soo’s new coach.
Carlson interviewed for the Greyhound job earlier this month and was subsequently offered it only to decide to remain in Cedar Rapids, multiple sources told HockeyNewsNorth.com.
Carlson declined comment on the matter.
The only coach and general manager the RoughRiders have known, the highly-successful Carlson won his 500th career USHL game during the 2014-2015 season.
Carlson and his wife, Tammy, are part of the six-person ownership group of the Cedar Rapids team. He is also team president.