Friday, September 10, 2010

Oilers’ head coach steps down on eve of opener

by John Barlow - Editor - Western Wheel

As the team was boarding the bus for their season opener in Camrose on Friday the Okotoks Junior A Oilers learned they would be doing so without their head coach.

On the eve of the 2010-2011 season Oiler head coach and general manager Garry VanHereweghe abruptly announced he was stepping down effective immediately and associate coach Chris Fuss will be the interim bench boss until a replacement can be found.

A tired looking VanHereweghe was sitting at his desk Friday afternoon as the team prepared to head to Camrose and said he was stepping aside for personal reasons and it was the best decision for himself, his family, the organization and, most importantly, the players.

“Now was the time,” said VanHereweghe who added a different personality was needed behind the bench.

“Obviously, I am not the right fit for the players’ expectations and the organization’s expectations,” said VanHereweghe. “They need someone who is a more suitable match for these players.”

He said the Oilers are an outstanding organization and with the players currently on the roster Okotoks will have a strong team this season. However, during an extremely competitive camp where rookies were pushing veterans for roster spots it became clear to VanHereweghe he was not the man to lead them this season.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “This is a great group of kids and it is tough to walk away, but they felt we were not going in the right direction.

“From the perspective of the team and where they want to go they have to be comfortable with the coach and if they do not fully trust the coach it is not going to work.”

VanHereweghe said stepping off the bench and retaining his GM duties was not an option either. He said he needed to severe the ties completely.

Okotoks is now actively searching for a new head coach and it is unlikely one will be found within the organization.

Fuss was offered the position and he agreed to take on the duties for the interim, but could not commit to being the head coach long-term.

“It would not be fair to the team or myself,” said Fuss who is entering his fourth season with the Oilers. “They need someone who is fully committed. This was not an easy decision.”

The other two assistants, Lyle Seitz and Rocky Zinger, will remain on the staff as well.

Fuss said with his commitments at home and with his own business he could not take on the head coach’s duties.

Fuss said having to find a new coach at this time of the season is difficult for the players, but the dressing room includes some strong leaders who will ensure the team focuses on hockey.

Oilers associate coach Chris Fuss is now the team’s interim head coach while the organization searches for Garry VanHereweghe’s replacement.
“We have strong leaders, strong character kids and they will find a way,” said Fuss. “We have a job to do.”

Oiler veteran Kyle Reynolds said the coaching change will not be a distraction for the players who will focus on what they need to do on the ice.

Reynolds, a third year Oiler, and many of his teammates went through a similar experience last season when VanHereweghe returned to the club to replace coach Dan MacDonald who was released just a month into the season.

“It is part of hockey, part of the game — guys come in and guys go out — we can’t worry about it,” said Reynolds of the coaching change. “We just need to focus on playing hockey.

“I am surprised, but if your heart is not in it then you shouldn’t stay. Garry was a great coach, and I think I can speak for all of the players when I say that. He is going to be missed.”

After a dismal 2-9 start under MacDonald last season VanHereweghe stepped in and guided the Oilers to a 38-18-1-3 record and the club’s first South Division title.

Reynolds said the team was able to rebound after a coaching change last season and he said that experience will be beneficial this time.

“We need to put this behind us and focus on getting a good start to the season and get some wins,” he said.

Oiler president Wayne Lauinger said the organization is disappointed to lose VanHereweghe, who was the team’s coach during their inaugural season in 2005-2006 until 2007-2008, but he added they must respect his decision.

“We hoped he would stay on in some capacity, but we have to move on without Garry VanHereweghe,” said Lauinger. “This organization will have the same principles and philosophies and we have been successful before because of people like Garry and we will continue to be successful.”

Lauinger admitted there is never an opportune time to lose your head coach and general manager, but he said it is better now when the team is still under construction.

He said there are no names on his wish list for a new head coach, but he said there will be no shortage of interest.

VanHereweghe agreed there will be interest as the Oilers are a coveted destination not only for players, but coaches as well.

“I don’t think I have had an opportunity to coach with a better organization than the Okotoks Oilers,” said VanHereweghe. “I will always support the Oilers.”

For prospective coaches, VanHereweghe said despite the turmoil to start the season they could not find a team with better potential than the Oilers.

“This is a good team and whoever walks in here is walking into a good situation.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Oilers training camp, week 2

by Bruce Campbell - Sports Editor - Western Wheel

A smaller camp has allowed the Okotoks Junior A Oilers’ coaching staff to have a stronger focus on the players trying to make the team’s 2010-2011 roster.

“We started with less than half the number of players at camp than we did last year,” said Okotoks Oilers coach Garry VanHereweghe. “I think with the smaller numbers the players can see the light at the end of the tunnel rather than when you have a 100 guys.”

The Oilers started camp on Aug. 24 and have played a pair of exhibition games with the Calgary Canucks. They lost 5-2 in Calgary on Friday and won in overtime 3-2 on Saturday night at the Centennial Arena in Okotoks.

However, wins and losses in the exhibition season are like campaign speeches — they don’t mean much but you have to decipher what’s going on to make a wise choice.

“If there is one area that I would like to see more of, it is intensity,” VanHereweghe said. “We have now played two games and an entire camp and we haven’t seen any altercations… We don’t condone that but at the same time we need to know that we are big and tough enough to look after matters as a team.. If there is one area we have to improve it’s in-your-face hockey.”

One spot where the Oilers are not lacking intensity is in net. VanHereweghe has a glut of goalies at camp and he indicated the team may have to carry three goalies at the start of the season.

Okotoks has goalies Sean Cahill and Michael Matyas returning from last year’s South Division championship team, and rookies Jared D’Amico and Riley Parker from the Notre Dame Hounds, who won the Canadian Midget AAA championship last year are also in camp.

Goalie Tyler Hughes, who played for the Okotoks Midget AA Oilers last season was released despite a good outing at camp and a solid performance in allowing one goal in 30 minutes of play in the Oilers’ 3-2 victory Saturday.

Tyler came into a tough situation and he didn’t play his way off the team,” VanHereweghe said. “It was a numbers thing and us knowing we had two returning goalies and others in the mix. He responded very well.”

He said Hughes is likely going to Melville to try out for the Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior A Hockey League.

VanHereweghe said the 16-year-old D’Amico might have had the most impressive camp with winning five of the six intra-squad games for which he was in net.

The Oilers have 13 veterans returning from last year’s roster and they are being pushed by a strong group of 17-year–old players. However, there’s been no hostility towards the young guys.

“One thing I have been impressed with is the leadership of the vets and helping the younger kids,” VanHereweghe said. “I think the leadership and direction among the guys at camp is one of the best I have ever seen in my Junior A career.”

VanHereweghe said returning Oiler Nolan Huysmans has been impressive in camp.

“The kid has shown up and has been a front-runner in main camp and carried that into the exhibition game when he scored our first goal (against the Canucks) Saturday,” VanHereweghe said. “He is more physical and brought character and leadership.”

The Oilers must have their roster trimmed to 25 players by Dec. 1. However, VanHereweghe said he expects to have his numbers down to approximately 23 players by mid December.

The Oilers’ first regular season game is Sept. 10 when they travel to Camrose to take on the Kodiaks.

Okotoks’ home opener is Friday Sept. 17 when the St. Albert Steel come to the Centennial Arena at 7 p.m.