The Kanata Stallions will have their own version of Don Cherry behind the bench for next season – minus the colourful suits.
The Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) team announced on July 7 that it has hired former NHL right-winger Randy Pierce, who broke into the league with the Colorado Rockies in the 1977-78 season under the now-famous broadcaster.
The Stallions, the Fred Page Cup hosts, have been without a bench boss since last season’s coach of the year Adam Dewan resigned shortly after the team’s opening-round playoff exit to the Cornwall Colts because he wanted to spend more time with his newborn daughter.
“I’m not babysitting. You’ve got to play my game,” Pierce said. “I was coached by Don Cherry and my theory and his theory are pretty much the same. Respect your coaches and everything they want you to do and give 110 per cent every time you step on the ice.”
Pierce, a Pakenham native who played for the Smiths Falls Bears in 1974-75, finished his professional career in 1986 and turned to coaching.
After stops in the American college ranks and the International Hockey League, Pierce guided the Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Arnprior Packers to two Valley division titles from 1995 to 1999.
Although Pierce has spent most of his time scouting since his son, Matt, graduated from the Stallions seven years ago to attend Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania, he said he’s been applying to many vacant CCHL coaching jobs in the last couple years.
This familiarity with the community and owner John Russo from his role on the coaching staff when Matt was a Stallion were contributing factors in the hire.
But Pierce cited his ability to develop future NHLers like current Minnesota Wild winger Darroll Powe – who played with his son – as one of his biggest strengths.
“I haven’t been coaching for a while, but that means nothing,” he said. “I played the game long enough and watched it long enough. I’m here strictly for teaching these kids how to play the game.
“I’m a player’s coach. For all the players on and off the ice, no matter what the issue is, let’s resolve it. We’re out here to play hockey and make you the best hockey player we can.”
Pierce said he was able to take in a few of the team’s game last season and noticed a drop off in their play from the start of the year. He added that he plans to help the players pace themselves better, especially since they are scheduled to play in the Fred Page Cup in late April.
It’s that type of thinking that will makes the Stallions excited about their new hire.
“He brings a vast knowledge of the game in his coaching and his playing days,” general manager Lou Nistico said.
Given that the Stallions are the host team, Pierce said he recognizes the pressure the team will be under this season.
With the defection of Kyle Rankin to the United States Hockey League’s Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Stampede and the loss of overage goaltender Scott Shackell – who will attend Adrian College in Michigan – Pierce acknowledges there will be holes to fill.
Because he plans to rely more heavily on defenceman and team captain Curtis Watson and last-year’s second leading scorer Brent Bisdee and expects Nistico to be very active at the league’s trade deadline in January, Pierce expects the loss of Rankin to be easier to cope with.
“Goaltending has to be No. 1,” he said. “If we can find two good goaltenders, I don’t think we’ll have too many problems upfront.”
Pierce’s contract will be re-evaluated on an annual basis, but that doesn’t mean he is trying to use this job as a stepping stone to the higher ranks.
“If I can’t do the job that’s supposed to be done then I don’t deserve to be there either. I’m the same as a hockey player in my eyes. You’re hired to be fired as a coach,” he said.
“My plans are to be here for three to five years and get this association back to the way it used to be when Archie Mulligan was there.”
Mulligan was the first head coach when of the Kanata Valley Lasers when they joined the league as an expansion franchise in 1987. He guided the team to two league championships and a Fred Page Cup in 1997.
For the Stallions to return to glory, Pierce said the team must play as a five-man unit, with emphasis on aggressive, positional play.
“We’re out to win and we’re out to improve guys,” he said. “If these guys want to buy into my plan and do what I expect them to do, then our team will improve by the end of the year.”