Patience key to building expansion franchise
Green joked about having a five-year plan, but that’s how long it took to make the Oil Kings a WHL champion
By Jim Matheson, edmontonjournal.com
May 14, 2012
Members of the Edmonton Oil Kings hold the Ed Chynoweth Cup after defeating the Portland Winterhawks in game 7 of the WHL championship series on May 13, 2012 in Edmonton.
Photograph by: Greg Southam , edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - Bob Green was on the ice Sunday night, a Western Hockey League championship ballcap on his head, a smile plastered on his face amidst the cacophony of whooping and hollering from a bunch of kids.
He was like a dad on Christmas morning as the children got the presents they all wanted when the Edmonton Oil Kings defeated the Portland Winterhawks in the seven-game league final.
The Oil Kings general manager put this team together, in concert with assistant and chief scout Randy Hansch and a gaggle of other bird dogs over five roller-coaster years.
The expansion Oil Kings won 22 of 72 games their first season, but they have won 66 of 92 games in Year 5, including 16 playoff victories which takes them to the next destination — the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que, with their first game Friday against the host Cataractes.
Green knew what he was getting into when he left the Medicine Hat Tigers as head scout in 2006, spending a winter scouting bantam tournaments, watching WHL game webcasts, and picking the brain of another expansion team GM, Scott Bonner of the Vancouver Giants, to see what he had done. His first team in 2007-08 was older and didn’t win a pile of games, but it was the first stop on a long road.
Did he have a five-year plan for winning it all?
“Absolutely,” said Green, with a hearty laugh. “Five years? That’s what I told everyone. It’s a long process and I’m not sure if I’d go through it again, but this one sure turned out OK.
“It’s been done before. It’s not rocket science. Calgary has done it (with the Hitmen). The Kootenay Ice did it. Vancouver (Giants) did it.
“You have to be patient,” Green continued. “You build through the draft. That’s the only way. I mean, there’s a lot of great players who were never drafted in the bantam draft, like (Joffrey) Lupul and (Tyler) Ennis, Jason Chimera, (Scottie) Upshall, Clarke MacArthur, who are in the NHL now, but that was a different time.
“There’s upwards of 250 players taken in the bantam draft every year. It’s harder and harder to find free agents like Lupul and Ennis.”
In the Oil Kings’ first bantam draft in 2007, they got current captain Mark Pysyk and forward T.J. Foster, who scored in Sunday’s clinching win over the Winterhawks.
Green also added Rhett Rachinski, who had four goals in the final series, to the club’s organization list after nobody took him in the bantam pool. In 2008, he got Keegan Lowe, Stephane Legault, Michael St. Croix, Travis Ewanyk and goalie Laurent Brossoit. Griffin Reinhart and Mitch Moroz came the next year.
The Oil Kings were on their way. That’s nine bantam draft picks and a listed player on the current roster from the first three years they were in existence.
“Only one year drove me nuts and that was the third year. The others have been fun. Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. Keegan Lowe and Tomas Vincour (now playing with the Dallas Stars) both had H1N1. We had an import defenceman leave. We had some players with concussions. Very frustrating year, illness, injury. I hate losing,” said Green, who decided to fire coach Steve Pleau, who is now a Calgary Flames pro scout.
“Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in hockey,” Green said. “It usually doesn’t come down to ability as a coach, it’s injecting some life and a different delivery of the message.”
There was a large stack of applicants for the job, and Green interviewed more than 10 candidates. In the end, Green decided on Derek Laxdal, who was coaching the Idaho Steelheads, the Dallas farm club in the East Coast Hockey League.
“Derek is a smart guy and I think he saw the value of how coaching these kids, being a good teacher, could help him develop as a coach.”
Looking back, it’s all progression for Green.
“The first year, we had some good kids like (New York Islanders’ third-round draft) Robin Figren, who’s now playing in Sweden. The next year, we got into the playoffs when Rachinski scored in overtime. Pysyk and Foster were on that team, too,” said Green.
The Oil Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Hitmen, but nobody cared. Any playoff games were a bonus.
Then there was the forgettable third season when the Oil Kings won only 16 times. In Year 4, they finished with 31 wins and lost to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the Red Deer Rebels in Round 1.
“Last year, we weren’t too sure if we’d win games. We gave up lots of early leads and guys weren’t comfortable with playing from behind. This year, the guys wanted leads and they kept them. I think we lost only one game in the regular season taking a lead to the third period,” said Green.
This year, the Oil Kings won 50 league games and lost only four of 20 playoff games.
“Moving up six spots in the bantam draft to get Griffin Reinhart. It was complicated,” Green said about one of his best moves, going from the ninth pick to third overall in 2009. “We valued Griff the most, but that was the year that (Moose Jaw’s Morgan) Reilly and (Red Deer’s Matt) Dumba and (Portland’s Derrick) Pouliot all went in the top four.”
Reinhart, Rielly and Dumba could all go in the top eight at the NHL entry draft in June, Pouliot maybe 12 to 15.
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