Numbers never tell the whole story, but here’s a few interesting facts as the Brandon Wheat Kings open main training camp today under head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon:
1 — The number of seasons the last three head coaches have been here after being hired by McCrimmon (Mike Kelly in 2003-04, Cory Clouston in 2011-12, Dwayne Gylywoychuk in 2012-13).
2 — The number of people in the WHL who juggle four hats as their team’s head coach, general manager, governor and owner (McCrimmon and Red Deer’s Brent Sutter).
3 — How many stints McCrimmon has served as head coach, (1989-1991, 2004-2011, and 2013+).
13 — How many years the Wheat Kings made the playoffs in a row, before missing last season under Gylywoychuk.
24 — How many wins the Wheat Kings had last season in a rebuilding year under Gylywoychuk (24-40-4-4).
41 — The average number of wins the Wheat Kings racked up each season under McCrimmon during his previous seven-year stint as head coach from 2004-2011.
90 — The average points the Wheat Kings posted per season under McCrimmon in his last tenure as coach.
284 — How many goals against the Wheat Kings surrendered last season, their worst since 1991-92.
It’s that last number that is one of the big reasons why McCrimmon is back behind the bench this season, but the decision to dump Gylywoychuk went deeper than that. As demanding a boss as there is in the league, McCrimmon has taken it upon himself to try to right the ship.
“I think that we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think there’s some work we’ve got to do before we ever talk about style of play, Xs and Os and systems, that type of thing. I think we need to have better leadership than we had last year, I think we need to really improve our mental toughness and our resiliency. ... And on the ice, I think defensively we have to improve. Every aspect of our game, there’s room for improvement.”
To be sure, McCrimmon agonized over his decision to remove Gylywoychuk, a loyal foot soldier and a fixture in the organization for more than a decade. But he hasn’t second-guessed giving Gylywoychuk his shot after serving as his right-hand man for years.
“I have absolutely no regrets about giving Dwayne an opportunity,” McCrimmon said. “I thought that he had earned it and I made the decision I made this summer (to remove him), but never was I sorry that I did give Dwayne an opportunity.”
Promoting from within didn’t work, nor did opening the vault to bring in an NHL coach in Clouston two years ago, who couldn’t get a talented Wheat King team past the second round of the playoffs. So McCrimmon will step back into the hot seat once again himself, knowing all too well the questions some fans and media members will be asking as the season begins.
Is the revolving door in the coach’s office an issue, as players adjust to their third head coach in three years?
“I don’t see it being an issue,” McCrimmon said. “I have been here throughout every player in our organization’s existence as a Wheat King, from draft day until they are placed on our protected list or our current roster. So I think our players know what I stand for and what I’m about.”
Is McCrimmon — a workaholic in the best sense of the word — spreading himself too thin by taking on the demands of being both a coach and a GM, as well as the business side of being a governor and an owner?
“I believe I am experienced enough to know what each job requires and that’s how I will approach it,” he said. “I think the seven years that I did do the combination of jobs, I was able to do them all well and I don’t anticipate that it will be any different this time. As was the case when I coached before, there’s a lot of people that ended up with a lot of responsibility elsewhere in our organization because of it and that’s fine because we have a lot of good people in our organization.”
Unlike the last time he filled all four roles, McCrimmon is now supported by two full-time assistant coaches in Darren Ritchie and David Anning. McCrimmon also addressed the loss of longtime scouting director Al Macpherson by replacing him with two veteran scouts in Wade Klippenstein and Mark Johnston, both bringing decades of experience to the organization.
It’s an organization that has been one of the most successful in the WHL over the past 20 years with McCrimmon in charge. And while he has his critics as a coach, there’s no denying that McCrimmon has a solid track record.
No, he hasn’t won a Memorial Cup — a distinction he shares with every single coach in the history of the Wheat Kings — but his record of 294-195-22-29 with seven straight playoff appearances in his previous stint as bench boss speaks for itself. In that time, he guided the club to a spot in the 2010 Memorial Cup final, a berth in the 2005 WHL final and two other trips to Eastern Conference finals and has a winning record of 47-44 in the playoffs, when wins get harder and harder to come by.
“I think the seven years I coached, we had good success,” he said. “We averaged 90 points a season … through about three different cycles of players, but there’s more to it than just that. I think the culture, just the way our team carries ourselves, I think those things are all really important.
“Obviously wins and losses are a big part of it, but there’s a lot that goes with it and I think I place a real high priority in those areas. I think the two years that I didn’t coach, you don’t have the same ability to impact your players as you do when you are coaching and that was part of the decision to return.”
As the Wheat Kings begin main camp today, it’s how those players respond to McCrimmon behind the bench that will hold the key to this season.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 30, 2013