EDMONTON, AB - “When you do good things, opportunities open up for you.”
Ian Herbers has driven that belief into the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team for the last three years. His stressing of purpose and daily improvement helped shape the Bears into back-to-back National Champions the last two seasons with Herbers behind the bench.
As Head Coach at the U of A, Herbers compiled a record of 119-19-0. The Bears went 72-12-0 against conference opponents in that time and 12-1-0 in conference playoffs, 7-1-0 in CIS University Cup games. A successful stint there helped Herbers become a top candidate for the Oilers vacant assistant coaching position.
The club announced the hiring of Herbers for that spot on Tuesday.
“It’s fantastic news to stay in my hometown just across the river and be at home and rejoin the Oilers family,” said Herbers. “I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m thankful that Peter (Chiarelli), Todd (McLellan) and the Oilers organization gave me this opportunity to coach in the best league in the world. It’s a great situation for me because I get to work with one of the best coaches in the game and a very talented group of players.”
The Jasper, AB native has a long history with hockey in his home province. He played for the WHL’s Lethbridge Broncos during the 1985-86 season. Upon completion of his junior career, Herbers went to school at and played hockey for the Golden Bears for four years. He won the 1992 National Title with the U of A and played 180 games there.
He made his NHL debut with Edmonton on October 6, 1993. The former defenceman played 22 games for the Oilers during the 1993-94 season.
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Familiarity with the team and the area are always helpful during a job search, but what’s also helpful is familiarity with potential colleagues.
Herbers was a player and assistant coach with the Cleveland Lumberjacks under Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan during the 2000-01 season.
“It was very good. You could see then that it was Todd’s first year of professional coaching. I think he just came from Swift Current and you could see his communication skills and how good he was with the players,” said Herbers. “It was a great situation for me. Doug Risebrough, who was the General Manager of Minnesota then, allowed me to be a player-coach and Todd agreed to it as well. Obviously, I didn’t get involved in all the player decisions but I got to see all the Xs and Os and system play and everything else. I got my foot going in the door with coaching. I knew at one point I wanted to do that again. I learned a lot that year with Todd.”
McLellan has stayed in touch with Herbers over the years, reaching out with congratulatory greetings after each of the Golden Bears two recent National Titles. He also met with Herbers at Oilers Orientation Camp earlier this month. That’s when things “fell into place” for this opportunity, according to Herbers.
The U of A bench boss wasn’t necessarily looking for another position or sending out resumes this spring. However, he was reportedly at the top of the list of candidates for the Kelowna Rockets vacant head coaching position. And the Oilers were obviously interested as well. It was an opportunity Herbers couldn’t pass up.
“It seems like with my hockey career and I guess coaching career now I’ve never done the normal route,” said Herbers. “I played in the Western Hockey League, was injured and came to the U of A. I was expecting my National Hockey League days to be done there but found a way to get into the National Hockey League and play a few games. I had a good pro career and now it’s the same thing with coaching. I’ve just worked hard and worried about what I’m doing in making the program better and improving myself. It’s the same thing we’ve talked about with the Bears the last three years. It’s about purpose and improving every day and that included me as well.”
Herbers says he and the rest of the coaching staff will sit down and determine roles and responsibilities in August. But for right now, he’s just focused on doing “whatever it takes to make the team successful” and enjoying the opportunity to return to the Oilers after getting his pro start in the organization years ago.
“It’s the same thing as when I was playing. It’s going to cost me more for tickets for family and friends and everything else,” Herbers laughed. “It’s great to be here and have the support of the community. It’s a fantastic organization. I really like what Peter has done in his short time here. Obviously with Todd, I expect a lot from him. He’s a very good coach. It’s a great situation for myself.”