Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's not often that I agree....

with Rob Vanstone or care what he says, but after reading his column I may just have to read his stuff more often.

Pats need more than a new coach

Pats need more than a new coach

By Rob Vanstone, Leader-Post May 22, 2009

REGINA — The Regina Pats require a culture change more than a coaching change.

In 14 years under the ownership of the Parker family, the Pats have employed Rich Preston, Parry Shockey, Tim Tisdale, Lorne Molleken, Bob Lowes, Curtis Hunt and Dale Derkatch behind the bench.

Coaches come and go, but one thing remains the same — the Pats are chronically incapable of advancing past the second round of the WHL playoffs.

This past season, Regina failed to reach the playoffs, period, leading to the dumping of Derkatch. Once again, Pats GM Brent Parker is in search of a head coach, with the return of Hunt or the hiring of Michael Dyck (recently deposed by the Lethbridge Hurricanes) being the most likely scenarios.

But regardless of who ends up as the Pats' next bench boss, you have to wonder whether the system is conducive to the attainment of optimal success.

Coaching simply cannot be the problem — not when you peruse the resumes of the gentlemen who have been responsible for the Pats' on-ice operation since the Parkers assumed control.

Preston is a long-time NHL assistant coach. Shockey helped Lethbridge reach the Memorial Cup in 1997. Molleken and Lowes are former CHL coaches-of-the-year. Hunt, who was a finalist for WHL coach-of-the-year honours while with the Moose Jaw Warriors, earned two gold medals as an assistant coach with Canada's world junior team. For all their successes, none of them won BIG in Regina. Neither did Tisdale nor Derkatch. There must be something in the (frozen) water at the Brandt Centre.

The Pats can continue to play musical coaches, but there will not be a breakthrough until a winning formula is developed and applied from the top down.

Under Parker, the Pats have been competitive more often than not, as evidenced by the team's winning record under his reign. In most cases, the coaches have some useful parts at their disposal, but a crucial element is often missing. For example, the Pats used to lament the abrasive play of opponents such as Lloyd Shaw (Red Deer Rebels) and Sean O'Connor (Moose Jaw) rather than countering with a comparably irritating player.

The 2007-08 Pats won the East Division's regular-season title but, even then, the roster was flawed. That edition of the Pats was built to play a grinding style at a time when speed and skill were being accentuated throughout the league. The Pats ended up being eliminated by a faster, more-skilled Swift Current Broncos team in the first round.

This past season, the Pats felt they had the makings of a contender. It turned out that they over-rated themselves. Once again, a lack of pure speed contributed to their undoing. Parker and director of scouting Todd Ripplinger have drafted and recruited some players whose acceleration will be on display in seasons to come. But that didn't do Derkatch much good, did it?

Under Derkatch, the Pats were captained by 20-year-old Victor Bartley — a solid citizen and a fine defenceman. Despite Bartley's many attributes, he would not have been the Pats' captain in a perfect world. He had been acquired from the Kamloops Blazers in January of 2008. Ideally, a 20-year-old captain should be someone whom the team has developed.

And what of player development as a whole? Ian Duval, a 20-year-old Pats castoff, is to play for the Kelowna Rockets in Sunday's Memorial Cup final. Skaters such as forwards Justin Bernhardt and Ryan McDonald (both of the Prince Albert Raiders) and defencemen Craig Schira and Nick Ross (most recently of the Vancouver Giants) were also unloaded by the Pats, only to make notable contributions elsewhere.

Defenceman Colten Teubert is the latest elite player to spin his wheels as a Pat. It is easy to dump on Teubert, as many reactionaries do, but his struggles are symptomatic of a larger problem.

It all comes back to the culture of the organization, or lack thereof. The mix-and-match approach to team construction produces successes that are intermittent at best. The Pats have been able to recruit some skilled players, but they are not always retained. All too often, their talents are maximized elsewhere.

A new head coach is going to fix all this? Good luck . . .
© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post