If it was supposed to be a secret, it certainly was not particularly well-kept.
Such is life these days as the beast that is social media insisted on divulging the news well before the Medicine Hat Tigers could even introduce its new general manager and head coach.
Indeed, Willie Desjardins is back for a second spin with the Tigers.
“I am really excited to be coming back to the Tigers and to Medicine Hat. It is a great organization, outstanding community and I have always felt it’s home,” said Desjardins before the assembled media at Canalta Centre.
For Desjardins, he added that “homey” feeling includes the frequents chats with fans and junior hockey supporters at grocery stores and coffee shops in the Gas City.
“This is a special city and a special group,” Desjardins said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is how great it is here.”
The Tigers and Shaun Clouston, who had been with the organization for 16 years, parted ways earlier in the week.
Desjardins returning to the fold comes after an eight-year hiatus, a stint that included six seasons in the National Hockey League and two in the American Hockey League. He is confident those years of experience will be beneficial moving forward.
“I think I’m better now at helping players to do what they have to do to get to the next level,” he said. “I think I have a really good understanding of the next level and what it takes. I’ve gotten to see some of the top players in the world play and appreciate how hard they work.”
But it won’t be a one-man show.
“I have lots of great people to work with, it’s a group effort,” Desjardins said. “I’m really excited by it.”
Under Desjardins guidance between 2002 and 2010, the Tigers made the playoffs in all eight seasons and won two league championships.
“Some of the best memories are of the players I coached in those years and I’m going to get that experience again. I’m going to get to coach some great young players. That’s going to be the fun part.”
“We have a challenge ahead of us. I know the players are excited, I know they’ll want to win and we’ll see how far we can take it.”
As for the changes with the Tigers and the process that resulted in his return to the Western Hockey League and the opportunity in Medicine Hat, Desjardins alluded to his love for winning, his confidence as a bench boss and his relationship with the ownership group.
“Sometimes you look at change as the way to do it,” Desjardins said. “When they let me go in Vancouver (Canucks), it’s not that I thought I was the guy, the reason they were not doing well. It wasn’t. I know that. I know what I can do in coaching.”
“So, the process? Maybe it’s been a long process because we’ve always stayed in touch. Not for any purpose, I respect them as hockey people and they talked with me and I love the community. When it was presented, I thought, yeah, this could be a good spot.”
Desjardins sluffed off providing any contract details.
“When Darrell (Maser) went to look for the old contract, we didn’t even have one. It was just a handshake. We just shook hands on it. It’s a great way to do business.”
He will also continue to be involved with the South Alberta Hockey Academy in Dunmore.
“That won’t change,” he said. “It was the same as when I was in Los Angeles. I’ll still be in touch with the players once in awhile, but I’ll be way closer, so it’ll be nice to mentor and be involved a little bit. I think it’ll be even better.”
“Obviously we know exactly what Willie brings as general manager and head coach because of his previous tenure with the Organization,” said Maser, President of the Tigers Hockey Club, in a release by the team. “Ultimately, Willie Desjardins helped establish the winning tradition of the Medicine Hat Tigers.”
“We are excited to welcome Willie back to the Tigers Hockey Club and the community.”
Ice Chips: The Tigers were 37-25-4-2 last season, good for a fourth place finish in the Central Division and a wild-card post-season berth. Medicine Hat dropped its first round series to the Edmonton Oil Kings in six games…Clouston leaves with 391 WHL victories on his resume, split between the Tigers and Tri-City Americans…Desjardins has earned 333 wins as a WHL coach, the bulk of which are from his days with the Tigers after his tenure with the Saskatoon Blades…Desjardins has won several accolades including the Canadian Hockey League’s Coach of the Year during 2005-06, coaching Team Canada U20 World Junior Team to a gold medal in 2008-09 and a silver medal in 2009-10, winning the American Hockey League Coach of the Year in 2012-13, coaching the Texas Stars to a Calder Cup in 2013-14 and coaching Team Canada to an Olympic Bronze Medal and a Spengler Cup in 2017-18…He has also been a head coach in the NHL coaching the Vancouver Canucks from 2014 to the 2017 and he was the interim head coach of the Los Angeles Kings in 2018-19.