I have mixed feelings every time a coach leaves an organization that I have been involved with, and having lunch with former Kelowna Rockets head coach Jeff Truitt for the final time Wednesday, brings another closure in a relationship with a junior coach.
Sure we'll occasionally talk, but it's no like being with each other day in and day out over the course of the winter.
I've seen Todd McLellan leave for the now defunct International League when I was with the Swift Current Broncos. I saw Marc Habschied leave for Hockey Canada after the Rockets 2004 season, and now Truitt sets sail for an assistant coaching job with the Edmonton Oilers American Hockey League affiliate.
Fortunately over my 12 years in the Western Hockey League, my goodbyes have been the result of coaches leaving on their own terms for greater opportunity elsewhere, and the axe hasn't fallen on one of them because of a firing.
How bad would that be?
Viewing Truitt as more than a Coach:
Each coach brought something different to the table when it came to coaching, but as a radio broadcasters, I tend to gravitate to the personality of the individual over what people simply see behind the bench.
You get to see these 'coaches' as more than just masterminds of the game of hockey. Oh sure those parts are intriguing in themselves, but these coaches are husbands and fathers of young children, just like I am. I've been fortunate over the years that all three coaches have been near or the same age, which helps you relate to them even more. It's small observations, and those long bus rides that foster a friendship with each one of these gentleman.
For my money, Jeff Truitt is as personable as they come. Sometimes I wonder if that will be his downfall in his coaching career. I really believe he does not have a mean bone in his body. Sure he can yell and scream with the best of them, but he is such a positive person to be around. When he turns on his bad cop persona, it frankly isn't very convincing.
Truitt's Accomplishments as Coach:
His accomplishments in Kelowna over his brief stint as head coach was an impressive one. Sure his team missed the playoffs this past season, but he faced huge pressure the season after Marc Habschied left the team after winning the Memorial Cup. Many fans questioned if Truitt had the ability to be a head coach at this level. You have to remember that up until Habschied's departure, Truitt was an assistant coach his entire time in the WHL. Sure he had coaching experience, but all as an assistant.
While Truitt had a strong team to guide in 2004-2005, would they play for the new coach? Could he lead the team to a championship, or was Habschied the only one who could get it done in K-Town? Had the Rockets faltered the first season Truitt took over, it would have been hugely embarrassing. The pressure to carry the torch of success was huge! The good news is Truitt came through with flying colors. It was arguably the most exciting playoff run the Rockets have ever had. It was a roller coaster ride to get to the league final, especially in a first round thriller over Vancouver and a clausal battle against Kootenay in round two. Sure the league final was a laugher, but the first three series to get there, including a crazy Western Conference final against Seattle was something special.
Truitt's Timing Tremendous:
I still remain steadfast in my belief that Truitt's decision to resign this summer was a smart one. I've stated in this blog before that his leash was likely a tight one, with GM Bruce Hamilton tugging on the other end. A less than impressive start by the Rockets this upcoming season, would likely have seen Truitt a coaching casualty. The move to Springfield for Truitt looks even brighter now that head coach Jeff Ward has moved on, and former Oiler Kelly Buchberger has been brought in to guide the ship. It appears at first glance that Buchberger isn't in Springfield for the long haul, so much so, that he isn't even bring his family down to join him. Maybe after a year as an assistant,Truitt can take over the top job?
Tipping My Hat to Truitt:
I can only wish Jeff and his family all the success in the world. I hope his move to the American Hockey League will bring him one step closer to another head coaching job, but this time at the pro level.
You've heard the saying that nice guys finish last. If that indeed is true, I have a feeling Jeff Truitt will be the exception to the rule!