In a hard-cap NHL the place top-six gamers inhale a lot of the wage oxygen, a franchise’s success relies upon closely upon the way it nurtures and ‘coaches up’ its youthful gamers.
Enter Hamilton native, Derek King.
As head coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs he’s entrusted with the Chicago Blackhawks’ youngest professional prospects because the Hawks proceed to transition from a veteran-laced Stanley Cup staff which traded away draft decisions and prospects to stay aggressive right into a extra sustainable talent-flowing-upward mannequin.
“We have now to develop our gamers right here to allow them to step in and play for the Blackhawks,” King says from Rockford, 150 kilometres west of Chicago. “The Hawks put some huge cash and emphasis on growing gamers, make us an enormous a part of the group and provides us each instrument we have to do it.”
King’s hockey resume is lengthy, thick and diversified and consists of gems like this one: he scored the Toronto Maple Leafs’ final objective in Maple Leaf Gardens.
After a prolific junior profession he was the New York Islanders’ first draft selection, thirteenth total, in 1985. By way of 830 NHL video games, he had 261 targets and 612 factors, together with a three-year stretch within the early Nineteen Nineties over which he produced 108 targets. Within the second and third final years of his 14-season NHL profession he totalled 45 targets for the Toronto Maple Leafs, earlier than ending with one other 5 enjoying years within the minors.
And by then he’d already been teaching for 2 years.
Taking part in in Munich for a season, he discovered he beloved the accountability of working with the youthful gamers, advising them on learn how to turn out to be consummate professionals. So, he accepted a job as enjoying coach the subsequent two years with Grand Rapids, Detroit’s AHL affiliate. After he hung up his aggressive skates, it was 5 years teaching youngsters in Arizona earlier than Dallas Eakins supplied him an assistant’s job on his gifted AHL Toronto Marlies teaching employees. Six years and three divisional titles later, he moved to Rockford as an assistant.
Partway by way of the 2018-19, his eleventh season as an AHL assistant, he was promoted to move coach.
“I wish to assume you pay your dues,” King says of lastly getting his personal staff.
It’s an odd yr within the AHL. There are not any Calder Cup playoffs, and most NHL groups are focusing their improvement groups solely on participant enchancment, ignoring wins and losses. The IceHogs have 17 AHL rookies on the roster — sophomore MacKenzie Entwistle, the favored former Hamilton Bulldog, is a relative veteran — and went 1-8 over the primary month however they’re a sport over .500 since.
“These youngsters had been nonetheless attempting to determine learn how to get groceries delivered,” King laughs of the dangerous begin. “However ever since then, there’s been a playoff-type mentality, regardless that there’s no playoffs. I’ve lastly stopped saying we’re a younger staff. These youngsters are literally a staff now, enjoying for one another, and actually growing.”
Professional sports activities is one giant Venn diagram, so there’s been loads of Hamilton intersections in King’s enjoying and training careers.
He was enjoying for Toronto when Hamiltonian-to-the-marrow Pat Quinn took over the Leafs and so they went to the 1999 East Convention ultimate collectively. Throughout a part of his run with the Marlies, he labored intently with Toronto govt Steve Staios, who skated from Hamilton into 1,001 NHL video games; he coached Hamilton’s Spencer Abbott with the Marlies and IceHogs within the seasons Abbott performed his solely two NHL video games; his quick boss, IceHogs GM Mark Bernard performed a yr behind him within the Hamilton Huskies system; King’s son DJ performed for Staios in Hamilton.
So, naturally, Entwistle’s first and present professional coach could be King.
“MacKenzie is a standup citizen,” King says. “And I consider he’s going to have an actual good profession within the NHL. It was nice the Hawks gave him an NHL sport this yr to see the place he’s at, however it’s additionally been nice for him to come back again right here from the taxi squad and play some precise video games.
“Every thing about his sport has taken off to the subsequent stage from final yr. He’s a professional now. He is aware of what he must do to remain.”
King says he’d most likely have been a greater professional participant if he’d been capable of coach first and says he tries to maintain that in thoughts when working with the IceHogs. However, he says, he’s precisely the place he’s meant to be, doing what he was meant to do.
“Issues occur for a cause. And right here I’m, a head coach in an ideal group.”