It’s has been a whirlwind two weeks for Milwaukee Admirals and new head coach Ian Herbers.
Last Monday after just 17 games as a head coach in the American Hockey League, Kirk Muller earned his well-deserved NHL promotion, taking over the top coaching position of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Muller’s elevation thrust Herbers into the spotlight with Milwaukee, after the Jasper, Alberta native served as an assistant coach with the Admirals for the previous two plus seasons under the tutelage of both Muller and Lane Lambert.
“I think I’m ready for this opportunity because I know all of the players,” Herbers said. “We have a young team here in Milwaukee and a lot of new faces, but I met a lot of the guys back at prospect and training camps back at Nashville. I also know what the organization demands of them during their time here in (the AHL).”
Herbers’ challenge came right away with Milwaukee as the Admirals team he took over was coming off of its lowest point of the season to date—suffering back-to-back losses at Midwest Division rival Charlotte.
With just two days to prepare for his first game as head coach, Herbers guided Milwaukee to an 8-3 thrashing of Abbotsford. Then over the weekend the Admirals became a perfect three for three under Herbers, picking up a home-and-home sweep of Peoria.
“Winning my first three games is certainly a lot better than the alternative,” Herbers said. “We weren’t that sharp Tuesday against Abbotsford, but were fortunate running into a team that had their goaltending struggle that night. (However), I thought we played very well against Peoria, and persevered in both games.”
Herbers found about the change as the team returned home from North Carolina Sunday evening. He immediately went to work assuming all of Muller’s former duties and making sure his team would be prepared for the Heat.
It was a role not unfamiliar to Herbers. After a playing career that spanned 12 seasons (1992-2004), including 65 games in the NHL and 166 games in the AHL, Herbers immediately went into coaching. He quickly moved up the ranks to become the head coach of the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs for the 2007-2008 season.
“This past week I had to do a lot of the video and game preparation myself,” Herbers said. “So those experiences at Johnstown where I had to do everything, including planning our travel arrangements, helped out a lot in teaching me how to do things more efficiently and to be more effective with my time management.”
After accumulating 73 wins in two seasons with Johnstown, Herbers was promoted to Milwaukee to join Lane Lambert’s staff as an assistant coach. Herbers stayed on with the Admirals in the same role when Muller took over from Lambert as Milwaukee bench boss during the offseason.
“I was fortunate to work under Lane Lambert and see firsthand all of his details and the work ethic that he had,” Herbers said. “And it was pleasure to work with Kirk and pick up a few things from him even though he was only here a short time.”
Herbers’ transition was made easier thanks to some calming influences within Admirals’ dressing room. Veteran defenseman Tyler Sloan
went through a similar change back in 2007-2008 with Hershey, when the Bears head coach Bruce Boudreau was promoted midseason to the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
“I don’t think it is going to be a big change because everyone within the organization, especially our players, knows Herby,” Sloan said.
“The systems aren’t going to change much, there isn’t going to be the big overhaul you usually associate with most coaching changes.”
Sloan admits that some of his teammates had some concerns about the change.
“Everyone was in shock initially and some of the younger guys were worried about the situation,” Sloan said. “But there was little to worry about. Even though (Kirk and Ian’s) coaching styles were going to be a little bit different with how they run things from practice to meetings, nothing big was going to change.”
Fellow Milwaukee defenseman Scott Ford, who has been with the Admirals for Herbers’ entire tenure, knows his team will be in good hands with their new leader.
“It certainly helps the transition when you win three in row,” Ford said. “But things went pretty smoothly because Ian’s been here for a couple of years and the players respect him because of how well he worked as a player’s coach. Now that he is the head man, Ian can really bring his knowledge, his own style and his hard working nature to our locker room.”
Instead of looking Muller’s promotion as a negative, Ford and his teammates saw it as a source of pride for a Milwaukee organization earning a reputation for developing first class coaches as well as NHL-ready players.
“I think the ownership in Nashville and here in Milwaukee have put in place good development coaches that really help our players advance to next the level,” Ford said. “But we’re seeing with the promotions of Lambert (this past offseason) and with Muller now as a head coach with Carolina, that this organization develops coaches just as well as it develops players.”
The final piece to coaching staff puzzle fell into place this week when Herbers hired his own replacement to serve alongside himself on the Admirals’ bench. On Monday the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers head coach Stan Drulia was promoted to the vacant assistant coaching position with Milwaukee, completing the Admirals’ behind the bench makeover.
“It was a hectic week, but things (are coming together) now that we have an assistant coach here in Drulia,” Herbers said. “We had a relationship from playing together in the past and we stayed in touch when we both were coaches in the ECHL, so that will be good for our team.”
With his coaching staff now settled, the next step for Herbers is to try to carry Milwaukee’s positive momentum into his first three games in three nights stretch as coach, starting with Friday’s night home contest with Grand Rapids.
“We are going to keep rolling forward and pursuing what we started pursuing back at training camp,” Herbers said. “We want to play a high energy and high tempo style of game that is hard to play against and that’s nothing new here.”