Bringing Max Fortunus back as an assistant coach with the Texas Stars just made sense, general manager Scott White said Thursday.
After all, the recently retired Fortunus was like a coach during his playing days and, at age 37, carries a ton of experience.
"Timing is everything in our game, and the timing is right," said White, who serves as GM for Texas and assistant GM for Dallas. "He and I go back quite a way. He has a solid history in Cedar Park, and quite frankly it was an easy decision to consider Max as the assistant coach."
Fortunus joins former teammate Travis Morin on the coaching staff, and his addition helps the skillset line up better. Morin was coaching the defensemen on Dallas' AHL affiliate despite the fact he was a forward during his playing days. Morin will now concentrate on helping the forwards in Cedar Park, while Fortunus will run the defensemen.
That's a great fit for a guy who has logged 882 AHL games and 118 more in the playoffs. Fortunus and Morin helped Texas to the Calder Cup Final in 2010 and then helped them win it in 2014. Along his career, he's been coached by Glen Gulutzan, Paul Jerrard and Willie Desjardins in Texas, as well as several other NHL coaches in other organizations.
Fortunus said he's tried to learn from each of his coaches.
"I was able to learn different aspects of coaching from different characters and different people," he said. "So I'm trying to be myself and take a little from here and there from each one of them."
Fortunus said the fact Gulutzan used to lean on the leadership group in 2010 sparked the idea that maybe he could also be a coach. He said he and other leaders were let into the process.
"I've always thought Texas would be a good path for me, and I've been thinking about that for a few years now," Fortunus said. "I got to have a little more input as an older player with Gulutzan. He would ask for input from his older players, and that's when I started to understand the other side of the game."
Video: Fortunus shares excitement for new role with Texas
Fortunus said the Texas Stars weren't favored that year, but still found a way to make it to the Calder Cup Finals where they lost to a Hershey team that had future NHLers like John Carlson and Karl Alzner.
"I remember that year we didn't think we would make it to the finals," Fortunus said. "But just the way they talked to the guys and made us believe in ourselves, and that's what made me realize it's a fun part of the game. For me, as a leader, I want the guys to help me be better and I want to help them be better. That aspect is so fun. When you see someone and can help them to the next level, it's really rewarding."
That experience is the reason White was so enthusiastic to add to the coaching staff. Texas already had a full staff by AHL standards but is adding an extra assistant. It's something White said is necessary as the organization pushes for development and the age of the roster gets younger.
"It's grown so much," White said of the responsibilities of the coaching staff. "A lot of that has to do with technology, the communication with the players, the information the players want. It was inevitable that staffs were going to grow. It just shows you the importance of development that this organization has stressed all along. You have to be able to give information and resources to the players to help them develop."
White believes the current staff led by Neil Graham, 36, is in a perfect place to develop players and develop as coaches.
"We're all about development in our group, both playing and coaching, we've moved our coaches along in a good way," White said. "We think we have good people in place, they're going to get experience quickly in Texas, and who knows. I know all three of them want to coach in the NHL, and the path to start that is in the AHL."
Video: White discusses Fortunus coaching hire for Texas
Fortunus said he's learned a ton as a player and has watched the game change in the past two decades. He said he looks forward to living through more changes as he goes forward.
"Back then, American Hockey League teams were older. When I started, the average age of my team was probably 30 and now I'm guessing the average is 23 or 24," he said. "It's a big difference, and even in day-to-day life, younger kids have a different way of seeing life than we did back then. It's the same thing for hockey, they have different mentality than we used to. We all know the game is getting faster and faster and guys are more skilled. But at the same time, you need to make sure guys understand the proper system and that they figure out how to be a good leader. It's little things like that that I would like to bring to the locker room."
The Stars are confident he will do just that.
"It's essential from an NHL perspective to continue the development, but quite frankly Max is the right fit," White said when asked about the AHL coaching staff expanding. "He's a defenseman, he's been through all levels of the game and he understands the game. He was a solid professional when he was with us in Texas, and I look forward to him working with our defensemen."
Victory Club memberships are available now for 2021-22! Beyond season tickets, don't miss your chance to secure the best seats for Stars home games, plus exclusive benefits, members-only experiences and much more. Click here to learn more!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.