Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Fresh Cote

Bentley Generals Head Coach
Brandin Cote
Coming off of a season in which they failed to make the Allan Cup for the first time since 2006, the Bentley Generals knew that the time for change had finally come.

After winning the cup in 2009, the Gens did an admirable job of scrapping their way back to the final tournament twice more only to come up just short. 

"We had to make some changes," team manager Jeff McInnis said on Wednesday.  "We were stagnant and we knew that.  We've learned a lot of lessons over the years. We watched other teams who are stagnant and you're saying 'gee, why don't they make changes?' But then you realize how hard it is to make changes when you're dealing with players who become your friends.  But you have to kind of separate that."

Letting go of a former NHL coach of the year definitely counts as change.  But in the minds of Bentley Generals management (McInnis and Team President Wes Gyori) it was the right thing to do.

"There were changes that were made this summer.  Hard feelings were made.  But, moving forward, if you don't change you're moving backward," McInnis explained.  Because everybody else is trying to get you.  You have a target on your back.  They're trying to get you.  We had to change and we did."

Brandin Cote is now the man now tasked with replacing Brian Sutter behind the Generals bench.  He's no stranger to the club, Cote played in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons for the Generals (thanks @thesnipeshow for the correction).  McInnis has been trying hard to get him back on Bentley's roster as a player ever since but to no avail.

"My excitement level is through the roof," Cote said at yesterday's Allan Cup 2013 media conference.  "Coaching is always something I wanted to pursue when I was done my playing career.  I've been preparing for this for the last four years.  Taking my education degree and working with the [RDC] Queens and doing Hockey Alberta stuff."

When it comes to coaching mentors, Cote's had some pretty darn good ones.  The Swift Current native played under Mike Babcock during his WHL days with the Spokane Chiefs (he was their 1st round bantam draft pick, 17th overall, in 1996 and owns the franchise record for career games played at 352) and, of course, played under Sutter with the Generals.  Cote served as an assistant coach on Trevor Keeper's staff with the RDC Queens in 2011-12.

"I'm prepared for it," Cote said regarding the Generals bench boss job.  "I'm confident in my abilities as a coach and I'm looking forward to coaching these guys in such an important year for the Generals."

And that's where Cote's previous experience with the Bentley Generals organization becomes an asset.  He is well aware of the level of excellence that is desired/demanded/expected.  But he's not feeling any additional pressure from the fact the team is hosting the big tournament this season.

"We're looking at it no different as any other year.  We are used to being there.  At the same time, I don't think we're very satisfied with the results we've had in the tournament other than the year they won."

When it that whole thing about replacing Sutter as the head coach, Cote definitely seems to be taking the right approach by not thinking about it too much, hardly at all really.

"Brian is a high profile guy and I have the utmost respect for him.  He's done a lot for this organization and he had a great playing career and a great coaching career," Cote said in his regard to his predecessor.  That being said...

"I don't see it as I'm coming in to replace Brian Sutter.  I'm not going to try and be Brian Sutter because I'm not.  I have my own philosophy and my own way of thinking on different things and I'm going to put that in place.  I have the utmost in faith my abilities as a coach to get the job done."

As much as he'd like it not to be the case, Cote knows that the Sutter comparisons are likely to hound him throughout the season.  Especially when the Generals and Innisfail Eagles, who hired Sutter as their head coach last month, do battle in Chinook Hockey League action.

"People from the outside can look at it what they want, big shoes to fill and all kinda stuff.  I don't necessarily look at it that way.  I'm focused on what I have to do and what our team has to do."

Helping Cote accomplish that feat will be assistant coaches Ryan Tobler, Bob Rutz, and Andy Nowicki.  Tobler retired from competitive hockey this year after a 13-year career which included four games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  He also suited up for a handful of games with the Generals at the end of last season.

Rutz is a school teacher here in Red Deer and has coached for many years in the minor hockey system (including midget aaa) and Hockey Alberta.

Nowicki's record speaks for itself.  The goalie guru has plenty of experience from his time with the Red Deer Rebels and Los Angeles Kings.  He also helped out with the RDC Queens last season.

When it comes to providing Cote and crew with a group of players worthy of competing for a championship... being the host team for the 2013 Allan Cup has made Bentley an even more attractive destination for players than it already is.

"I'd be lying if I said it hasn't," McInnis admitted.  "Guys wanna drive.  I'll talk to a player and usually what I'll say is 'what do you do for a living?'  Because most of these players are in transition.  Some of them are set up and that doesn't end the conversation for them, but it did for me.  We've got a guy who's gonna come from St. Paul.  I thought the conversation was over.  I thought he was living in Edmonton.  But he says 'no no, I'm coming.  I'll be there.  Just fill my gas tank.'  A couple of times this summer I've said to myself 'that didn't happen before because we weren't the host.'"

Cote and McInnis are (quite rightly) keeping quiet when it comes to their, reportedly very impressive, group of newcomers. 

"One of our things that we wanted to do going forward was get a little bit younger and a little bit quicker," Cote explained.  "I think we've addressed those issues.  I'm very excited about the group we have."

A number of key veterans are returning to the Generals forward to take another shot at winning it all... including captain Sean Robertson, Joe Vandermeer, Curtis Austring, Don Morrison, and Travis Brigley. 

A number of Generals players have been skating together on a casual basis throughout the summer.  The team will hit the ice for its first 'formal' practice next week in Lacombe.


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