Hitmen name Steve Hamilton as head coach

Eight years later and Calgary Hitmen GM Jeff Chynoweth finally got his man.

Eight years ago, Chynoweth was running the Kootenay Ice and looking for a new head coach. He interviewed an up-and-coming coach in Steve Hamilton, who already tucked Alberta Junior Hockey League Coach of the Year titles under his belt in 2006 with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders and two more with the Spruce Grove Saints in 2009 and 2010.

Chynoweth offered the job to Hamilton for the 2010-11 season, but he politely declined, electing to stay close to his family with three young children and work for the Edmonton Oil Kings as an assistant coach.

The turned-down deal worked out well for both sides, as the Kootenay Ice won the Ed Chynoweth Cup that season and Hamilton captured the Western Hockey League title in 2012 and 2014, along with the Memorial Cup in 2014.

After Hamilton’s contract expired with the Oil Kings following their 22-42-6-2 record this past year and the Hitmen’s vacancy after the unexpected stepping down of Dallas Ferguson, the two finally came together on a deal.

“I followed his career throughout and I have a been a big fan, when we went through the process, I was really happy when he applied. He was one of the first ones that applied and he knocked his two interviews out of the park. We are ecstatic to add him to our organization,” Chynoweth said Tuesday in a jam-packed Hitmen dressing room at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

With eight head coaching changes in the Western Hockey League this summer, the Hitmen were not short on applicants, as Chynoweth said his inbox was flooded with over 40 applicants with coaches from the National Hockey League, European leagues and other areas of the Canadian Hockey League.

The coaching hire comes a little over one year after the Hitmen hired Ferguson, who was a college coach with no head coaching experience in the WHL.

Hamilton becomes the 10th head coach in franchise history and could be the right piece of the puzzle for the team in the early stages from moving on after a rebuilding season.

“The No. 1 criteria for us was to have someone with Western Hockey League experience. We think we are trending in the right direction. We’re not there by any stretch, we have a lot of work to do just like a lot of teams, but he’s done this before and built a team that went to three league finals, two championships and a Memorial Cup,” said Chynoweth.

Hamilton now takes over in a similar position to when he got the job with the Oil Kings.

In his first year in Edmonton, he helped take a team that won 16 games the year prior, win 15 more games and went to the Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

“(Junior hockey) is cyclical. We fell on some hard times in Edmonton. But I wouldn’t give back the Memorial Cup or the three 50-win seasons. There’s a price to be paid for that. The last few years, we’d gotten very, very young … I thought the deals Jeff made to revamp the Hitmen on the fly in preparation for the seasons ahead were some very astute moves. I think that well positions the team to be more prepared this year.”

Candice Ward/Hitmen Photography

Hamilton will be joining a team in a similar position to that of the Oil Kings in 2010-11. The Hitmen just experienced their fourth-worst season in franchise history, having gone 24-37-9-2 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the Oil Kings originally hired Hamilton.

Having a new message for the third-straight year to start a season will be one of Hamilton’s first issues he will try to tackle.

“Growth and maturity from this young group is the No. 1 thing I’ll look at. These things take time to develop. Sixteen and 17-year-old kids don’t run this league, it’s the 18- and 19-year-olds that typically do,” said the 44-year-old Hamilton. “I am looking forward to getting to know all the new players.”

With the 17- and 18-year-olds the Chynoweth brought in via trade last winter, the Hitmen lineup could be much more dynamic than it was last year, especially under Hamilton’s up tempo system.

Players like Tristen Nielsen, Mark Kastelic and Luke Coleman will be learning the ways of a new head coach for the third-straight year.

“This is a unique opportunity for myself. Last year it was no secret that I was in and out of the lineup a little bit, so this is a new chance for me to come in and work hard and earn some time right out of training camp,” said second-year blue liner Andrew Viggars.

The one thing the Hitmen didn’t do a lot of last year was win. So Chynoweth brought in a coach with a long successful resume of winning in the WHL and some new ideas for the dressing room.

“He’s been around winners and winning teams, so he knows what to look for on the ice and how players need to play in this league. I think that is only going to help us out that much more this season,” said winger Nielsen.

For Hamilton, he hasn’t put much thought towards depth charts or training camp schedules. Right now, he is working on moving his life from Edmonton down to the other side of the provincial rival. It might feel a little odd for an Edmonton boy to call Calgary home, but he is sure that feeling will fad rather quickly.

“Couldn’t be more of an ideal fit for myself and my family to come to Calgary — It seems a little strange to say it out loud first, but it’s beginning to make sense. We are thrilled to come down the road and my family is extremely excited about this opportunity,” joked Hamilton.

Hamilton will get the opportunity to go up against the squad that let him go Sept. 7 and 8, as the Oil Kings and Hitmen play a home-and-home in the preseason, before meeting up with them the third game of the season, Sept. 29, at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

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