With George Burnett being relieved of his duties the Hamilton Bulldogs/Belleville Bulls franchise will be looking for a new head coach for the 1st time since 2004-05. Burnett during his 12 years at the helm of the franchise took the Bulls/Bulldogs 1 4 conference finals and 1 OHL finals. In the last 7 years however the teams fans have suffered through 5 losing seasons.
One benefit of the change is that the Bulldogs will be separating the Head Coach and GM duties. While coming as recently as 10 years ago the dual role is something that you are seeing less and less of with the evolution of junior hockey and the added demands on both roles.
With President Steve Staios taking over the GM role the fan base can have confidence in him finding the right man for the job. In his year as president of the Bulldogs Staios has slowing been making over the franchise with key highers in both analytics as well as player development and strength and conditioning.
In looking for a new coach the Bulldogs should be looking for a leader with great upside and a strong history in player development. Having one of the younger rosters in the league player development is key to the Bulldogs moving forward. This is especially true with the fact that from the outside it seemed like the development of a few players stalled somewhat last season.
I have broken down a list of a few candidates for the HC position. This is not a list of all options but a few that stick out to me. It is broken down into 3 groups. The internal options, those who have a connection to Steve Staios through is playing an management career and finally some top head coaching candidates that are currently assistants in the CHL.
The internal option
The Bulldogs assistant GM as well as an assistant coach under George Burnett. Troy came to Hamilton after a 9 year run with the Kitchener Rangers. The last 2 years as head coach where he compiled a record of 54-67-15. He replaced former Rangers HC and GM Steve Spott and walked into a rebuild so his record must be taken with a grain of salt. He had a 25 point improvement from year 1 to year 2 and is well respected in coaching circles.
With previous head coaching experience and his familiarity with the Current Bulldogs team Troy has to be considered the favourite for the job.
The Steve Staios Connections
Todd is a native of Hamilton Ontario and is a former 1st overall OHL draft pick. He won 2 world junior gold medals during his junior hockey days and went on to have a 12 year NHL career.
Since the 2013-14 season Todd has been an assistant coach with the Guelph Storm. That first season the Storm would go on to win the OHL Championship.
Todd was teammates with GM Steve Staois with the Edmonton Oilers during the 2005-06 season.
Currently the GM of the Buffalo Jr Sabres in the OJHL. Peca won coach of the year during the 2013-14 season his second behind the bench. He stepped back from coaching the Jr A team as he shifted to coaching his sons team in the Jr Sabres program while maintaing his role as GM.
In his 2 seasons behind the bench he had a record of 69-28-11 while helping lead the Jr Sabres to levels they had never reached before.
During his playing career Peca won an Olympic gold medal with team Canada. He was also teammates with GM Steve Staios during the 2005-06 season with the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek King recently finished his 1st season as an assistant coach with the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL.
Prior to this he was an assistant with the Toronto Marlies for 6 seasons. During this time Steve Staios worked in player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
During his playing Career Derek played in 830 NHL games. During his OHL career he played in 2 memorial cups. Once for the Soo Greyhounds and once for the Oshawa Generals. He also played Jr A hockey in Hamilton before being drafted into the OHL and is a Hamilton Ontario native.
Dereks son DJ was a 2nd round draft pick of the Hamilton Bulldogs and is currently committed to play for the USNTDP.
Currently an assistant coach in the QMJHL with the #1 ranked team in the BMO/CHL top 10 the Rouyn Noranda Huskies. Fortier came to the Q after a successful 2 year stint with the Toronto Patriots in the OJHL that lead to 2 straight league titles as well as a Dudley Hewitt cup championship and a berth in the RBC Cup and a 70-30-7 record. Prior to his stint with Toronto he had a successful 4 year run with the Vaughn Vipers were he accumulated a record of 125-61-18.
Aside from his success in terms of wins and titles Jason has a stellar reputation as someone who can develop talent. With a background of on ice success and an ability to develop talent it is only a matter of time before he is a head coach at the CHL level.
While there may not be much of a connection between Jason and GM Steve Staios he did coach against the son of owner Michael Andlaur. Andlauer's son plays in the OJHL for St. Mikes who happen to be in the same division as the Toronto Patriots. Because of this you can expect that Andlauer is very familier with Fortiers success and reputation although I imagine the descision will lie solely with Steve Staios.
The first back to back winner of the OJHL coach of the year award (13-14, 14-15)since they moved to 1 award for the whole league (before a winner was chosen from each division) James also won the award in 2008-09 as the MacKinnon division recipient while with the Georgetown Raiders. A finalist for the Oshawa Generals opening last season Richmond ultimately wound up as an assistant with the Mississauga Steelheads.
After leading the Aurora Tigers to the OJHL final in 13-14 Richmond improbably led a team that improve d to a record of 44-7-3 in spite of the fact that they graduated 15 players from the 2013-14 team.
During his time with Aurora James also worked with the Los Angeles Kings in a player development role that saw him work at various prospect and rookie camps.
During his playing career James went the NCAA route where he was captain of the University of New Hampshire his junior and senior seasons. Following his college playing days he would play in Europe in Denmark, Netherlands and Germany.
Former Captain of the London Knights Dylan was a member of the 2005 Memorial cup champions. Following a professional career that consisted of over 300 games in the AHL and ECHL Dylan joined the coaching ranks as an assistant in London.
One of Dylans main roles with the Knights revolves around player development both on and off the ice with young Knights. 2015-16 is his 5th season behind the bench in London and during his time he has even picked up a win as a head coach while filling in for his father Dale.
Ryan is a hot name among current OHL assistant coaches. A former captain of the Grand Rapid Griffins in the AHL Ryan had to retire due to a hip injury. He has been Stan Butlers lead assistant with the Battalion since 2011-12 . In this time the Battalion have won 32 playoff games and have advanced to 1 OHL final and another Eastern Conference final.Born in 1985 Ryan is would be the youngest coach in the OHL but having mentor in Stan Butler for the past 5 seasons you know he is someone who would be well prepared to take the next step.
Who do they pick?
There are plenty of high quality candidates for the Bulldogs to chose from. The fact that they arent rushing to name the internal candidate the new head coach is great for the fan base to see. The team shouldn't wait too long however as I anticipate a few more openings in the league as some current head coaches move on to the professional ranks.
With my time covering the OJHL I have grown rather fond of the work that both Jason Fortier and James Richmond have done. Personally I feel Richmond will be named the HC of Mississauga at some point this season (assuming they know what is good for them). If it were my call I would take a long hard look at Jason Fortier. He wouldnt be the first coach to have success at the Jr A level and move on to the OHL as guys like Marty Williamson, Dale Hawerchuk and Sheldon Keefe have all done the same. The year as an assistant in the QMJHL will only benefit him further.
At the end of the day there may not be a wrong decision in this group. Some may be more right than others but I would not be surprised to see all of these candidates thrive as a CHL head coach at some point in the future.