Much has been made about the recent influx of head coaches who have been promoted, untested at the NHL level, but successful in the American League, to guide teams in the big time.
This season’s coaching changes in Ottawa and Pittsburgh, and the rapid rise of AHL Hall of Famer Bruce Boudreau in Washington, have many wondering who will be the next AHL coach to be called on to make the leap.
The so-called “Boudreau Effect” was kick-started on Nov. 22, 2007, when the Capitals promoted Boudreau from Hershey, where the former AHL scoring star and longtime coach had led the Bears to consecutive Calder Cup final appearances and a championship in 2006.
Boudreau turned the Caps’ season around, guiding the club to a division title and earning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
Last summer, John Anderson was tapped to guide the Atlanta Thrashers after leading the Chicago Wolves to their second Calder Cup title and Scott Gordon was hired as head coach of the New York Islanders after winning the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s outstanding coach with the Providence Bruins.
This year’s mid-season promotions of Cory Clouston (15-6-3 since taking over on Feb. 2) from Binghamton and Dan Bylsma (12-2-3 since Feb. 16) from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton continued the trend.
So who might be next?
Rob Murray was Gordon’s assistant in Providence and Bob Woods held the same post under Boudreau in Hershey. Both were elevated to head coach following their predecessors’ promotions and now both have their teams one point out of first place in their respective divisions.
Don Granato, AHL coach of the year in 2001, took over for Anderson and is leading the Wolves in their Calder Cup title defense.
Scott Arniel isn’t a complete unknown in NHL coaching circles – he was an assistant with the Buffalo Sabres from 2002-06 – but he has strengthened his resume as head coach of the Manitoba Moose. The Moose have won at least 45 games in each of Arniel’s three seasons in Winnipeg.
If the dual roles of an AHL head coach are to develop players and to win games, then it’s hard to find someone who has had more success this season than Bridgeport’s Jack Capuano. His club enters the week in first place in the East Division with a 44-20-3-5 record, while 19 different Sound Tigers players have also skated for the parent New York Islanders over the course of the year.
In three years as the Anaheim Ducks’ top development squad under Kevin Dineen, the Portland Pirates made two appearances in the Eastern Conference final. Now Dineen is guiding Buffalo’s top prospects in Portland and has them in the thick of a playoff race, this after the Sabres’ affiliate won just 24 games a season ago while in Rochester. Dineen has an impressive pedigree also: his father, Bill, won championships in both the AHL and the World Hockey Association.
Ken Gernander was the Hartford Wolf Pack’s captain for eight seasons before his retirement in 2005 before spending two years as an assistant under Jim Schoenfeld before taking over the head coaching duties. He has amassed a record of 90-51-11 at the helm so far and has the Pack poised for their 12th consecutive playoff berth. Still one of the youngest coaches in the league at 39, Gernander has been a member of the New York Rangers organization since he signed as a free agent in 1994.
The second-year head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, Lane Lambert, has his team on the brink of its third division title in six years. Lambert’s playing career included 283 games in the NHL and a Calder Cup championship in the AHL. He also served as an assistant coach in both Milwaukee and Bridgeport before getting the Admirals’ top job in 2007.
Quad City head coach Ryan McGill is in his seventh season as an AHL head coach and his fourth with Calgary’s top development club. McGill’s teams are traditionally among the stingiest defenses in the league and he has sent at least one defenseman or goaltender to each of the last five AHL All-Star Games.
Worcester head coach Roy Sommer has put in 11 seasons as the San Jose Sharks’ AHL bench boss, preparing players such as Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Dan Boyle, Brad Boyes, Jonathan Cheechoo, Vesa Toskala, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski for the NHL.
Like Boudreau, Syracuse head coach Ross Yates was a prolific AHL scorer in the 1980s. He spent six seasons as an assistant coach with the Crunch before taking over the head duties in 2006 and steering the club to a 100-point campaign in 2007-08. The 49-year-old Montreal native was named the AHL’s MVP in 1982-83.
The “Boudreau Effect” is nothing new – the NHL has been looking to the AHL for coaches since the days of Tommy Ivan, Lynn Patrick and King Clancy. And as the coaching carousel inevitably spins on, teams will continue to find the next crop of battle-ready leaders in the AHL.
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