Before Greg Poss was willing to commit himself to working his way through the coaching ranks of the ECHL, he wanted to see how committed the players of the league were to getting better at their jobs.
One season as an assistant with the Ontario Reign in 2009-10 showed Poss all he needed.
"I wanted to see in Ontario if this was something for me. I found out that the level of hockey is very good, very high," Poss said. "I was really, positively surprised at how good the hockey is, and how passionately the hockey is played. It makes my job more enjoyable when you have that kind of atmosphere."
Poss, 45, has much different surroundings now. After a single season coaching in the ECHL, Poss has landed the top spot with the Florida Everblades. It is his first pro head coaching job in North America.
"I think I'm a good assistant coach. I can do that job, no problem. I'm just used to being a head coach all my life. I have a lot of experience at that position, albeit in Europe." -- Greg Poss
Poss brings an international perspective to his new position. Before his season in Ontario, he spent eight years as a coach in the German Elite League with Iserlohn, Nuremberg and Mannheim. In 2006-07 he helped Mannheim become the first team in DEL history to finish first in the regular season, win the inter-league tournament and capture the league championship in the same season after leading the club to a 35-9-8 record.
"I think I'm a good assistant coach. I can do that job, no problem," Poss said. "I'm just used to being a head coach all my life. I have a lot of experience at that position, albeit in Europe."
Poss expects that background to be applicable on this side of the hockey world.
"There's always going to be differences. In coaching, you can take nothing for granted," he said. "I think an advantage of coaching in Europe is (the variety of opposition). You've got all these coaches doing different things, un-traditional things you wouldn't see in North America. From that sense, it was a great learning ground. It's not a complicated game. And in the end, it's how you manage the players, the individuals, and how you relate to them."
A hometown team --
Gary Jacobs wants to make the Las Vegas Wranglers one of the few attractions in the city that appeals first and foremost to the people who live inside its borders.
Jacobs has purchased the Wranglers with anything but bigger-than-life expectations of grandeur. As with any other sports team, he appreciates that its survival depends upon entertaining the locals, an obvious tidbit that can get lost in all the world famous glitz of the area's entertainment options.
"People think of Las Vegas, they think of the Strip, all the things that go on out there," Jacobs said. "The marketing of the team is really targeted towards the local community. I'll be focused in on this one. There will be a clear direction in which we'll go."
Some of that marketing points toward employing the team's mascot beyond just game day events, establishing a non-profit foundation and lowering some ticket prices, Jacobs said. Most immediately, Jacobs' purchase calms speculation that Las Vegas was on the endangered species list. The Wranglers averaged 4,350 fans per game in 2009-10, 12th in the league.
Jacobs attacks this challenge with a background in the field. Since 2001 Jacobs has been the managing owner of the Lake Elsinore Storm baseball team, a Class-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
"I think it's an undervalued organization," Jacobs said of the Wranglers. "We have some good staff in there. There is a tremendous upside opportunity here. I think we can make a big impact immediately."
Laxdal, Puhalski moving on --
Even as he moves out of pro hockey for now, Derek Laxdal
sees himself inching closer to the big prize of that profession.
Laxdal has resigned after five years as coach of the Idaho Steelheads to take a similar job with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. His run in Boise was nothing short of spectacular -- a 217-108-35 overall record, a Kelly Cup championship in 2007 and a trip to the finals this season. But in joining the Oil Kings he at least puts himself on the front lawn of the NHL because that team is owned by the Edmonton Oilers
"Boise has been an awesome place. But sometimes you take different paths," Laxdal said. "I get an opportunity to watch NHL teams come in and practice. I get a chance to pick the brains of the Oilers coaches. You don't get that chance every day. I'm involved with an NHL organization now. You have a lot of opportunities there."
While Laxdal is pursuing one type of education, Greg Puhalski
is involved with another. Puhalski has resigned from his coaching job in Wheeling to take the top spot with his alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. Puhalski recorded 634 wins in 16 seasons of professional hockey in the ECHL and UHL, including 82 wins in 2 1/2 seasons running the Nailers.
Stockton honored --
For the second time in five seasons, the ECHL has lauded Stockton for its ticket-selling prowess.
The Thunder organization was named recipient of the 2010 ECHL Ticket Department of the Year award at the recent league meetings held in Las Vegas. The team shared that honor with Las Vegas in 2005-06.
Stockton, a four-time leader in ECHL attendance, averaged more than 6,000 fans per game at Stockton Arena in 2009-10 and drew more than 200,000 fans at the gate for the fifth straight season.
Many of those fans came via mini-plans and group sales, vital segments to target when full season tickets might be hard to work into the budget. Team President Dan Chapman said a franchise-record 40,777 tickets were sold through group sales.
"The sales people were relentless in their efforts," Chapman said. "All of our staff realizes you can't leave any stone unturned. We are constantly telling our people we have to come up with new ideas. I've been telling people now for five years that what Thunder hockey has done in our community is like nothing I've seen in my whole life."
In another league award, Cincinnati Cyclones vice president and general manager Kristin Ropp was selected by the board of governors as the 2009-10 Executive of the Year. Also, Doug Plagens of the Idaho Steelheads was tabbed 2009-10 ECHL Broadcaster of the Year.