ANAHEIM -- When Dallas Eakins was fired by the Edmonton Oilers last December, he retreated to his home in Vancouver and re-discovered a missing piece of his life: His family.
Gone was the scrutiny of trying to resurrect a storied franchise. No more five-game, eight-day road trips. Eakins settled into a normal life after coming to terms with his termination.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Eakins said. “It was very hard at the start. Time heals wounds. You know you’re away from the family. [I have] two little girls. I didn't know exactly how much I was missing out until these last six months. It’s a time I will never forget.”
During those six months, Eakins made a trip to Anaheim to inquire about the next phase of his coaching career. The San Diego Gulls, who became the American Hockey League affiliate for the Anaheim Ducks, had an opening.
His daughters, ages 3 and 7, were too young to really comprehend the move but Eakins’ wife shared his excitement. It’s a new start, from snow to sunshine.
“I don’t know what to do with these snow shovels and all these winter coats,” said Eakins, whose hiring as Gulls coach was announced Friday.
“We’re a bike family. I just have to make sure we [have a place where we] have enough room for the bikes.”
It’s a common script: A young coach fails at his first NHL job and goes back to the minors to reset. New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was fired by the Montreal Canadiens and spent three seasons coaching at the junior and AHL level before he became coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Eakins spend part of his hiatus reading up on New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose career dipped before he rebounded with New England. He had no interest in being an NHL assistant coach next season, and his previous AHL success with the Toronto Marlies made him a fit for San Diego in its inaugural season in the league.
Eakins compiled a 157-114-41 record with the Marlies and led them to the 2012 Calder Cup Final.
“He was on the radar from day one,” Anaheim general manager Bob Murray said. “He’s a teacher and communicator. We got lucky.”
Murray has known Eakins for a long time and said he brings the same qualities of Ducks assistant coach Trent Yawney.
“They both get the same results,” Murray said. “They both make players better. They have the patience and the understanding to make players better.”
Eakins made it clear that an NHL return is not on his mind at this stage and was very complimentary of his time in the AHL with the Marlies. He was reluctant to reflect on his tenure with the Oilers, who were 7-19-5 this past season when they fired Eakins.
Edmonton has not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in nine seasons although it has three straight No. 1 draft picks on its roster. Eakins said it was a tough situation right, and that in the future if there is another opportunity in the NHL he thinks that experience will help him.
“What’s interesting when you go through this is that the perception of you is, ‘What have you done for me [lately]?’” Eakins said. “So I think the perception is a negative one about my coaching right now, coming out of Edmonton. But when I came out of Toronto, I thought I was a very good coach, and I believe I’m 10 times the coach now.”
Eakins wants to mold the Gulls on and off the ice. He wants them to be involved in the community and embrace the fan base. First, he has to familiarize himself with the city, where he last visited as an opposing player with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the International Hockey League.
“I don’t have much memories of that,” he said. “I don’t even think we got around town. I’m excited to get in there.”