BAKERSFIELD, CA - Jay Woodcroft spent 13 seasons, over 1,000 regular-season games, and 100 playoff contests as a video and assistant coach in the NHL, but a move to Bakersfield as the bench boss of the Condors would be his first as a head coach.
The experience was a new one, but one that was bolstered by his attention to detail inside the organizations of the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and Edmonton Oilers.
New opportunities and experiences at the helm of an organization needed to be pursued in order to grow as a professional and to take another along his own development - much like the path he put the players he coached in Bakersfield on at the beginning of the 2018-19 AHL season.
Video: CONDORS | Woodcroft 05.15.19
"I wanted to sharpen my skills for when my opportunity came," Woodcroft said of his first foray into the head coaching ranks in his final interview of the season. "I tried to be as good of a student as I could be, and a lot of the things you saw put in place this year were the result of taking copious notes over 13 years both physically and mentally.
"I really enjoyed being a head coach this year, and the best part of that was getting to work with my staff on a daily basis; getting to work with players who bought in completely. I told our group that this was one of the most enjoyable groups I've ever been around, and I've been around some good teams along the way."
The feeling goes both ways, with praise for Woodcroft from his players flowing in throughout the entirety of Wednesday's interviews as coaches and staff decompress after exiting the Calder Cup Playoffs in Round 2.
"He's been phenomenal," Cooper Marody, who flourished under Woodcroft with 64 points (19G, 45A) in 58 games during his first full pro season, said. "You never really know what to expect when you have a new coach and haven't really been around him or heard much about him, but he's been one of my most favourite coaches I've ever had. He put so much time and effort into improving my game to becoming a complete player in all aspects, and he's done that with all the players on the team."
Video: CONDORS | Cooper Marody 05.15.19
The growth seen from a plethora of talent in the Condors locker room, building up from the back at the goaltending position with Shane Starrett all the way through defencemen like Caleb Jones and forwards such as Tyler Benson, began with Woodcroft bringing on experienced and leading voices in assistant coaches Dave Manson, J.F. Houle, video coordinator Sam Kim, head athletic trainer Chad Drown, and a permanent place for goaltending coach Sylvain Rodrigue in Bakersfield.
"We laid the foundation for this franchise," Woodcroft said. "We treaded some new ground and couldn't be happier with the effort, the determination, and the will of the 25-26 players that were able to connect to each other and connect to the coaching staff and connect to this community. I thought their care for each other was obvious on a daily basis and I couldn't be prouder to be their coach."
A long season calls for a long evaluation period, and Woodcroft will trade coaching the Condors for coaching his daughters' soccer practices this summer after time away from home.
"I'm taking the next couple of days to wrap up our season, so the coaching staff have meetings and evaluations as well with the players to give them a template for their summertime and future going forward here. After that, I've been away from my family for a solid eight months, so I'm going back up to Edmonton where my wife and two daughters are living, so I'm going to go be a dad for a little bit."