In the spring of 2011, the T-bird had just finished up their second consecutive non-playoff season. As a result General Manager Russ Farwell parted company with head coach Rob Sumner after seven years behind the bench. They were an older team that year but lacked more then a few top end players. The team knew that they would still have some veterans back the next season but would be transitioning over the course of the next couple of years and becoming younger and more reliant on that young talent.
And now, here we are today in another transition period, after the man who replaced Sumner, Steve Konowalchuk leaves for a job in the NHL. Instead of coming off back-to-back non playoff years though, the T-birds are coming off consecutive appearances in the league's championship series, including winning it all this spring. But like 2011, while the team still has some quality veterans returning for next season, over the next couple of years they will be transitioning, becoming younger and more reliant on that young talent.
In the spring of 2011 they captured lightning in a bottle and found the perfect marriage between coach and roster when they chose Konowalchuk to lead them from the bottom of the WHL standings to the top. Each season under his leadership they got better and as we noted above, it culminated in the franchise's first ever Chynoweth Cup.
The question becomes, can they capture lightning a second time because this next hire is just as important as the last. The core group of players who helped lead the franchise to its greatest successes is now gone. Younger players are standing by ready to take their place. The S.S. Thunderbird needs a captain to get them all rowing in unison and in the right direction.
Over the course of his coaching tenure with the T-birds it seemed that the organization brought in players who fit what Konowalchuk wanted for his roster. While that may have some truth to it, let's give the players credit for adapting to his coaching style and the coach credit for adapting his systems to the talent he had on his roster. He convinced his players they could succeed with his style. That's the trick isn't it? To find that perfect balance between player talent and coaching acumen. Konowalchuk was able to find that balance.
My memory is a bit sketchy but what I seem to recall from the Konowalchuk hire back in the spring of 2011 is that he wasn't necessarily aggressively seeking the job. That instead Farwell identified him as someone who would fit well as a head coach at the WHL level and he convinced him to take the position. Farwell, to use a word you here a lot in politics when political parties are seeking out candidates, "vetted" Kono.
I like that word, "vetted". It means to investigate someone thoroughly, especially in order to ensure that they are suitable for a job. I'm guessing Farwell has already received dozens and dozens of inquiries into the T-birds coaching vacancy. Once again, he must do some vetting of those candidates. Once again he has to find the perfect match between roster and coach. Once again he has to find that one candidate out their who has that "it" factor that separates the also-rans, the run-of-the-mill coach, the average coach from the great one who can lead a roster of young men to be their best. He doesn't have to find a Konowalchuk clone, just someone with the same Konowalchuk qualities.
The time frame to make the hire is much smaller then it was in 2011. Konowalchuk's decision to move on came well into the offseason. Most teams, at all levels, have completed their hires for next season. T-birds training camp is just two months away. So yes, there is a sense of urgency but Farwell has been around the block a few times. He knows he can't rush to make this hire just for the sake of hiring someone. Getting it right is more important than getting it done.
For the second time in less then a decade the T-birds franchise is at a crossroads. Which path will they choose as they move forward?