After finishing last in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s standings and seeing the team drop further down the standings the last two years, the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and making some big changes.
The organization is looking to fill a lot of positions after parting ways with head coach and general manager Barry Butler this month, including a general manager, assistant GM, head coach and possibly assistant coaches and support staff. The split with Butler, who has been with the club for 16 of its 18-season history, came for a plethora of reasons.
"I’m not sure if I want to into all the details," said Wolverines board chairman Dan Szwaluk. "Ownership and the board just decided that due to some operational and administrative things that weren’t quite right that it was best to take the team in a new direction."
The team removed the head coach’s title from Butler two weeks before parting ways with him entirely. The goal of the organization is to have a GM focused on business operations and scouting and the head coach focused on coaching the team.
People who applied for the advertised head coach/assistant GM position are now being considered to be the team’s next GM. The head coach could be the assistant GM, but that will be up to the new GM and who he hires.
"That will evolve as we review the applications," Szwaluk said. "Depending on who we hire as a GM and we have to make sure we’re on the same page with our philosophies and our direction, it is possible that there could be the three positions. It is also possible that the head coach could be the assistant GM.
"I would suspect we would have at least an associate or assistant coach as well."
He was not sure if Butler’s assistant coaches would return for next season.
The goal is to have the GM hired in early May and have him hire the coaching staff so they can work together to prepare for the bantam draft on June 4 in Winnipeg.
Szwaluk does believe that whoever takes over the franchise will have a decent team to put on the ice. There are 11 players born in 1997 on the roster from last year’s team, which went 14-42-4, who could return and seven more who were born in 1998.
The team just had its spring camp on the weekend, and Szwaluk was impressed with the 34 prospects and 54 draft-eligible players who attended.
"Very happy. Great strong group of ’02s, the bantam-aged kids," he said. "Obviously we can’t draft them all, but it’s a good strong group. Our prospect group is strong too. We were very pleased with the camp.
"From some longtime spectators, probably one of the better camps we’ve had in a while."
The Wolverines did get stronger as the season went on. After winning five games before the Christmas break, they won five in January and four more in February, but finished 16 points out of a playoff spot.
The team’s attendance figures followed a similar pattern to the win totals. There were fewer than 200 fans at only two games after Christmas while the figure was below that mark eight times before the break. The team averaged 220.6 fans per game, with the regular-season finale drawing 439.
Szwaluk appreciates the team’s dedicated fans but would like to see those figures increase. He knows on-ice success will help with that as well.
He doesn’t feel like the team is on bad financial footing though.
"We’re fine financially," he said. "Like any other team we need to strive to increase our revenues because the expenses are fixed and it’s hard to make cuts there so we have to attack the revenue side a little bit. Financially we’re strong. "
The organization is looking for ideas to how to improve in all areas, which is why it’s hosting a round-table discussion at the Russell Inn on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Regional involvement, rebranding and restructuring hockey operations, booster club, expanding volunteer bases for team activities, team merchandising, fundraising, corporate sponsorship, social media, game day promotions, player billets and player education and employment opportunities will be among the talking points.
Everyone, be it corporate sponsors, fans, parents or members of the community, are welcome to attend. The Wolverines ask that people register with them by Monday if they choose to attend so that the team can plan for lunch. They can be contacted at 204-859-3377.
"We’ll get together on the 25th of April and sit down and brainstorm on how to attack some of those challenges that we have," Szwaluk said.
"The more ideas you get, the more successful you’re going to get, at least that’s our approach to it. One or two people can’t really fix the things that we need to fix, so we’re going to sit down and brainstorm about it."
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