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Q&A with Wolf Pack Assistant Coach Ken Gernander

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers


hartfordwolfpack.com

You asked the questions, now check out Assistant Coach Ken Gernander's answers ...

Thank you for submitting your questions last week to Wolf Pack Assistant Coach Ken Gernander in the second Q&A on hartfordwolfpack.com.

Gernander, 36, steps behind the Wolf Pack bench as an Assistant Coach after concluding an illustrious 14-year playing career this past April. A member of the Rangers organization since signing as a free agent in 1994, Gernander has served as captain of the club's top minor league affiliate in each of the last 10 years (All eight years of Hartford's existence, plus the final two seasons in Binghamton).

Gernander is the highest-scoring American-born player (293-331-624) and ranks eighth all-time in AHL games played (973) in AHL history. He is also the Wolf Pack's all-time franchise record-holder in points (347), games-played (599) and playoff games-played (78). Gernander also ranks second all-time in goals (160) and assists (187) in Hartford franchise history.

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Q: At the Booster Club meeting after the season ended you indicated you wanted to come back to play another year. Between that time and the announcement of your retirement what happened, and how did you come about making the decision to retire?
- Kevin Columbo, Vernon, CT

KG: Really the turning point was when I was offered the assistant coaching position, and it was a very good offer. Coaching is something that I always, in the back of my mind, thought I would like to pursue. And just given the timing of everything, and the situation I'd be coming into, with Schony being the head coach and myself and Ulf being assistants, was a real good situation. I assessed things in terms of my level of play versus the opportunity I had to pursue the avenue of coaching, and in weighing my options, I figured that this was the best option for me at this juncture.

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Q: I was just wondering how you are feeling taking this new step in your career and how will it change you as a person in general if at all?
- Patty, Cromwell, CT

KG: Obviously, the decision to retire from playing was very difficult, and rather emotional. But since taking that step, I haven't regretted anything, and I'm actually getting more and more excited as the days go by, looking forward to coaching and to learning all the different things that go into that, and just the new avenue. Other than that I don't think it's changed my life so far. I haven't performed any coaching duties yet, so that remains to be seen.

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Q: In your new role of Assistant Coach, what do you think will be the most challenging aspect of your new position, and if you could name one thing that you're looking forward to the most, what would that be?
- Debbie Bonczek, Tariffville, CT

KG: Initially, not playing will probably be a little difficult emotionally. Beyond that, I'm assuming that coaching will have many challenges, and I'm looking forward to discovering what those will be. As far as what I'm looking forward to the most, coaching, for me, is an opportunity to stay in hockey, which is something I enjoy and something I am passionate about. I enjoy working with younger kids, so I think I'll like the development aspect of coaching at the American League level more than the strategy part of it. I'll like to see kids improve, to get better, to grow, all those things. I think that will be the most exciting and rewarding part for me.

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Q: What are the chances of you being a player-coach if the need arose?
- Frank, East Hartford, CT

KG: I think that part of the Rangers new direction is to develop players, and I think that they have so many draft picks and young players that it's not going to come to that. I think that was part of the whole attraction for me to the coaching job, that there are going to be so many good young kids. There are even going to be very good young kids in Charlotte, more so than in past years. You never know how things are going to work out with the new collective-bargaining agreement, but it just seems like there is going to be a need to have a lot of young players, a lot of callup players, and I just can't foresee that a need would ever arise for me to think about playing again.

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Q: Over the course of your playing career you played for a number of different coaches. Of those coaches, who do you think had the greatest influence on your game and what will you take from that experience to help the players develop now that you yourself are behind the bench?
- Seth Lake, Mount Juliet, TN

KG: All of them have had quite a bit of impact. I'm going to try to take bits and pieces from every coach I've played for. I think there are some coaches who did things that were great and others did things that the players had a hard time responding to. Just like any situation, you try to limit the negatives and accentuate the positives. I've had a number of good coaches, they're all good coaches at this level. They worked their way to this level and they were successful at other levels, and I hope to take a little bit from each one of them. And having done that, I think you then also have to create your own character or personality.

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Q: What will it be like coaching your former teammates?
- Mike C., Watertown, CT

KG: It'll be different. I don't think I'll be quite as close to them as I was as a player, just because I'm not going to be sitting in the back of the bus or in the locker room, all those things. You won't have as much interaction with them. I still hope I can be close and be friends and everything like that, but it's like any type of "graduation" that you go through, when you move out of the home or whatever, or like you don't keep going back to the same high school after you graduate. You still have people you call your friends, but you won't see them as much, and for that reason I don't think you'll be quite as close as you were when you were a teammate.

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Q: What role do you see yourself in , in this new coaching position?
- Martin Boatwright, Cromwell, CT

KG: We haven't discussed that yet, but I think all of us, Schony, Ulf and myself, have strengths and things we can bring to the table. I would hope I can bring some enthusiasm, professionalism, a strong work ethic, and I would hope after 14 years I've gained some hockey knowledge. I think, too, that with the other two guys having spent almost all their careers in the NHL, I can offer a valuable perspective on the American Hockey League from a coaching angle. I'm sure that throughout the course of the year we'll discover that we all have different strengths, talents and abilities, and I foresee us working together very well.

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Q: I'm wondering whether, now that you're an assistant coach with the Wolf Pack, you would like to stay with them until you retire from coaching, hopefully a long, long, time from now, or would you like to move on to other things like coaching in the NHL?
- Joe Duggan, III, Windsor, CT

KG: I think I'm just going to take things one step at a time. I'm looking forward to being an assistant coach with the Wolf Pack right now. I think there is a lot to be learned about coaching, and I think that with all of Schoeny's experience, he obviously will be an excellent tutor and mentor. I didn't entertain the idea of coaching until I was asked, and I won't entertain anything other than being an assistant coach of the Wolf Pack right now. That's what I've signed on to do, and I don't try to project myself any further than that. I just want to be there helping, supporting, whatever it is I'm asked to do, and all the while learning all the different facets of coaching.

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Q: What will be the hardest adjustment from player to coach?
- Karen Laureen, Somers, NY

KG: I'm not sure about that, but I know what things I'll miss about being a player. There's something to be said at the end of a hard game being all sweaty and smelly and things like that. And like I said before, you won't be quite as close with the players. You still consider yourself their friend and hope they can confide in you, but there's just a little bit of a different element to the relationship. The other main thing will be the amount of learning I have to do as far as what it takes to be a coach.

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Q: Who do you think will be returning from last year's team and who may be called up to the show?
- David Obier, North Haven, CT

KG: At this point, it's way too early to forecast those types of things. Given the new CBA, given how many spots there are to be filled in the New York Rangers roster, what direction they're going to take in terms of development vs. free agent signings, who has a good offseason, who has a poor offseason, who aged well during the year off and who didn't, there are so many variables right now, I think it would be almost impossible to forecast. I'm sure, though, that there are going to be lots of jobs to be won in training camp this year, probably more so than in years past.

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Q: Do you have a major goal you hope to achieve during your first year coaching?
- Paul and Rachel, Bristol, CT

KG: As coaches, I think we'd like to see our team achieve certain milestones. We'd like to be in the hunt for a Calder Cup, and we'd like to see all the kids make great strides in terms of personal development toward their goal of advancing to the NHL. For me personally, I've already alluded to the fact that I have a lot to learn. You can't really put a quantitative figure on how much learning you can do in a year, but I would definitely like to learn and grow as a person and as a coach. You're always working towards something.

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Q: Who do you think is worthy of the position you have held as Captain of the Wolf Pack?
- Debby Smith, Bristol, CT

KG: Some of the guys that come to mind I think have a legitimate chance of playing for the New York Rangers, others of them aren't necessarily signed for this year, but there have always been worthy people with the Wolf Pack. I've just been fortunate enough to have been here for the whole time and to have represented the group as captain, but I don't think that we'll ever lack for character people.

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Q: Having played with some of the players you will now be coaching, do you think that will be an advantage to get the players to take direction from you?
- Ron Webb, Manchester, CT

KG: I think it will help me to have some insight into understanding them, like when we ask ourselves about a player, "Jeez, why is he not playing his best right now, where can we help him?", different things like that. But then again, you may have some preconceived notions about them that you have to overcome. I really don't foresee any trouble. I've always had a really good relationship with everybody, and I've always been treated with a good deal of respect by my teammates, and I in turn treat them with the utmost respect. So personality-wise, I don't see any source of concern.

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Q: How difficult was it for you to play in the AHL all your career and not the NHL?
- - John, Mamaroneck, NY

KG: I don't think it was difficult at all. I was lucky enough to be with one organization for almost all of my career, and I was always treated with a great deal of respect, being an American League player. The American Hockey League is a great, high-level league. All the guys in this league have great skills, talents abilities, and they all go about their jobs professionally. I really feel quite lucky, especially with the support I've always been shown in Hartford by the fans, everybody's always pulling for you. With that kind of support and fellowship with people, it wasn't a difficult thing at all, and I have no regrets whatsoever.
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