The Calgary Hitmen have their hockey operations staff locked in for the 2017-18 season.
In a press conference Tuesday morning at McMahon Stadium, Hitmen vice president and alternate governor Mike Moore introduced the new general manager, head coach and promotion of an area scout.
With one of the most recognizable last names in the sport, Jeff Chynoweth, has been brought in as the new general manager.
Along with Chynoweth, the Hitmen also announced the hiring of Dallas Ferguson as the team’s ninth coach in franchise history and promotion of Dallas Thompson to director of player personnel.
“We are very proud and honoured today to name three guys to our hockey operations department that are elite people that have won in the past,” said Moore,
The Chynoweth bloodlines run deep in the WHL. His father, Ed, was the WHL’s first full-time president. His brother, Dean, captained the Medicine Hat Tigers to a Memorial Cup in 1988.
Jeff, Dean and their mother Linda owned and operated the Kootenay ICE for 16 years, before selling the team to Winnipeg businessman Greg Fettes and hockey executive Matt Cockell this past spring.
“The last four years have been difficult. When we sold the team, I was planning on taking the year off before getting back into the league, I wasn’t looking for this,” said the new general manager. “Then Mike presented me with this offer and it was a no-brainer.”
Moore, who was the WHL executive of the year for the 2013-14 season, was the general manager and vice president from 2013 to 2017, was able to lure Chynoweth in by allowing him to strictly focus on the game on the ice.
“This move re-energizes me. I can just focus on hockey now and I don’t have to worry about the business part of things anymore. That’s what sold me,” said Chynoweth, who captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2000, 2002 and 2011 with the ICE.
The ICE also won the Memorial Cup in 2002 under Jeff’s watchful eye.
A Calgary native, Jeff has previously worked a variety of hockey operation roles with the Red Deer Rebels (1991-95), the Lethbridge Hurricanes (1989-91), the Brandon Wheat Kings (1988-89), Medicine Hat Tigers (1987-88) and Spokane Chiefs (1986-87).
With the big name secured for the general manager position, Moore and Hitmen president and chief executive officer Ken King managed to pull their head coach from the college ranks.
Ferguson, a Wainwright, Alta. product, has spent the past 13 seasons with the University of Alaska Fairbanks of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division 1. After his college career with the Nanooks, he moved into a role as an assistant coach for four years, then took over the team for the following nine years. He went 127-126-38 over his nine years as head coach with a .502 winning percentage.
Under his tutelage, he saw more than 40 Nanooks turn pro, including Colton Parayko (St. Louis Blues), Chad Johnson (Buffalo Sabres) and Stanley Cup champion Jordan Hendry (2010 Chicago Blackhawks).
“When I met Ken and talked with Mike, it became clear that this is a place you want to come and be a part of this organization based on their focus, wanting to be successful and having the support that they do, up and down the organization,” said the 44-year-old Ferguson.
“Alaska will always hold a special spot in my heart. It’s where I went to school, I met my wife while we were in college and had my kids up there. It was a hard decision, but I wanted to push myself into the world of pro hockey,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson, a defenceman during his playing days, led the Nanooks to a fourth-place finish in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and was named Coach of the Year honours in 2008-09. He took the Nanooks to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance the following season.
There no doubt will be an adjustment period for Ferguson. Other than moving to his family to another country, he will be dealing with a whole new world of hockey.
It will be a big jump up from the 4,595-seated Carlson Centre to the 19,289 seats in the Scotiabank Saddledome. The workload will also double for Ferguson, as the Nanooks played 35 regular season games last year compared to the Hitmen’s regular 72.
“I’ve always prided my teams in having a strong work ethic at the forefront, organized, to be prepared and to play in competitive games,” said Ferguson. “I’ve spent a lot of time watching video and reaching out to some of our players as we try and get unified for training camp.”
Ferguson takes over for Mark French, who left the Hitmen following last season to take the head coach job for the Fribourg-Gotteron Dragons of Switzerland’s National League A.
French spent three seasons with the Hitmen and was their fifth-winningest coach, going 117-80-0-11-8 with a .586 winning percentage.
The furthest the Hitmen went under French was to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014-15, when they lost 4-1 to Tim McGauley and the Brandon Wheat Kings
Ferguson was able to meet a couple of his new players, as there were a few Hitmen in attendance at the presser.
“It’s big knowing that our organization has everyone in place now. It makes a big difference. Now we can really prepare for the season,” said 20-year-old defenceman Brady Reagan.
Ferguson and Chynoweth will have plenty of roster moves to make this year, as Reagan is one of five over-agers eligible to return to the Hitmen lineup this season. The other 20-year-olds are Matteo Gennaro, Jakob Stukel, Jaydon Gordon and Cody Porter.
The Hitmen made one more announcement when they promoted Thompson, who has been with the organization since July 2015 as the B.C. scouting director.
He brings more than 17 years of scouting and managerial experience to the table. He has served as an assistant coach (1998-00), assistant general manager (2000-04) and general manager (2004-14) with the Prince George Cougars.
“I am honoured and proud to continue working with the Hitmen and their storied tradition,” said Thompson. “I am excited for the upcoming season and look forward to working with Mike, Jeff, Dallas and the rest of the coaching staff and scouts.”