Return of Blades' bench boss crucial for team continuity
By Daniel Nugent-Bowman, The StarPhoenix
March 31, 2012
Big off-season changes to the Saskatoon Blades roster have been promised following a swift first-round exit from the WHL playoffs, but a new coach won't be among them.
Nor should it be.
Less than 24 hours after they were disposed in four straight games to the Medicine Hat Tigers, Blades head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken frustrated those posting on the Star-Phoenix's online comment board when he said he would retain both roles for the upcoming season.
It was a promise he made to team owner Jack Brodsky when the Blades - in conjuncture with the city of Saskatoon - were awarded the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup last October.
So, as to be expected with such a big tournament in the works, Molleken had one eye focused on planning for next year throughout this season. Any success the Blades had this season was purely gravy.
While expectations intensified early in the season when the Blades won their first 10 games on home ice to tie a franchise record - leaving them ranked ninth in the Canadian Hockey League in the process - only those wearing rose-coloured glasses should have believed that trend would continue.
A December swoon, which saw them win just three of 10 games, plus mounting injuries in the second half of the season dropped the Blades down in the Eastern Conference standings.
They would finish fifth and earn a date with the Tigers in what was supposed to be one of the most hotly contested first-round series. Of course, it didn't turn out that way.
The Blades couldn't contain Tigers superstar winger Emerson Etem and, to a lesser extent, running mate Hunter Shinkaruk. They didn't make life miserable on goalie Tyler Bunz, who allowed seven goals in four games. And they didn't play with enough grit to win.
Disappointed Blades fans know this story all too well. It was a similar formula that got their team booted from the second round to the Kootenay Ice a year ago.
However, expectations were much different then. The Blades won the Scotty Munro Trophy as regular season championship and were supposed to go much further.
There were no Brayden Schenns or Stefan Elliotts in this bunch - at least, not yet. Remember, this team only had three 19-year-olds, a number that will undoubtedly be larger next year regardless of which players are asked to return to the fold.
Certainly, the critics will say, Molleken's playoff record cannot be overlooked.
In his second tenure in Saskatoon - he coached the team from 1991-92 to 1994-95 before leaving for the American Hockey League and NHL ranks - the Blades have missed the playoffs twice and lost in the opening round three times in eight seasons under Molleken.
Throw in the underachievement of last spring and there are a few blemishes to be sure.
But each season in junior hockey is independent of next. This year was nothing more than a transition year - a year to see who would make the cut for next season. There's no reason, especially given the supposed impending changes, the Blades won't be ready to go for next season.
Next season is the big one and there's no logic in disrupting continuity by bringing in a new bench boss to alter the course on short notice, especially given that the Blades weren't planning on lighting it in 2011-12 anyway.
If the same results occur 12 months from now and the Blades are cannon fodder in the Memorial Cup, there's certainly an argument to be made.
But for now, it's the captain's job to guide the ship - as it should be.
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