EDMONTON, AB - Last April, after 13 seasons in the NHL as an assistant coach, Jay Woodcroft took his first head coaching job with the Bakersfield Condors.
He hasn't looked back, and continues moving forward following his first year being a bench boss under his belt.
Positive progression for the Condors this season in the form of a 42-21-3-2 record and a Western Conference title before finishing their first Calder Cup Playoff appearance in the Pacific Division Final earned the 42-year-old a three-year extension in Bakersfield on Wednesday to continue expanding his ability as a head coach and fostering a positive environment for the Oilers AHL affiliate.
"Last year when I was presented with the opportunity, I was excited about it," Woodcroft, speaking to Bob Stauffer and Oilers Now on 630CHED this afternoon, said. "I felt like I studied for 13 years to take a test, worked on building a resume in the coaching world, and earning a reputation by how I conduct my business on a daily basis.
"For me, the ability to do that in Bakersfield knowing the quality of players we have down there, knowing I had the autonomy to build the staff the way I wanted it to be built, it was very exciting for me. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to work with."
Woodcroft experienced the trials and tribulations of the season with a young and budding Condors team, including prospects like Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, and Shane Starrett. The club lost five-straight games in early January before stitching together 17 wins in a row to tie the AHL's second-longest win streak in league history.
In an environment prioritizing growth, winning had to become a skill for Woodcroft and his side.
Video: CONDORS | Woodcroft's Craft 02.14.19
"I felt it was important for our team to do well in Bakersfield, to really embrace the philosophy we can develop players, but do so in a winning environment," he said. "Our first year down there in our program, I think we laid the foundation to set us up going forward.
After positive results in year one, Woodcroft and the Condors are hitting the reset button after last season's influx of youth will be followed up with names such as defencemen Dimitri Samorukov and Evan Bouchard, who's already made an impact with three goals and five assists in eight playoff games after finishing his last OHL season with the London Knights.
"We're not resting on any kind of laurel understanding we're going to have to re-establish a few things come September, but with the players we have coming into our program, with the players we have that will continue to improve and what the coaching staff and management we have in place, we're very excited," Woodcroft said.
A successful AHL program is designed to push players to the next level, and Woodcroft believes a number of last season's players could surprise next season come time for Oilers Training Camp at the end of the summer.
I think they're going to come into training camp with an expectation to compete for a spot coming out of camp," he added. "I think their skill levels will do well with the way the game is being played at the highest level and I would expect them to put their best foot forward. I'm excited to see what they bring to the table and see how they use their summers to set themselves up for a successful camp and a successful year.
"We expect them as an organization to put their best foot forward and make it as tough of a decision as possible."