It has been a “whirlwind of emotions” – all positive – over the past three weeks for Mike Stothers, the new head coach of the Manchester Monarchs. Having solidified his ties with the Los Angeles organization at the draft, he returned to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to begin the process of moving, and by the middle of next week he’ll have moved into New Hampshire’s largest city.
“It’s a great experience, and to be a part of it and to see L.A. hoist the Stanley Cup, it’s a good feeling to be a part of this organization. I couldn’t be happier,” Stothers said. “I’m thrilled. My family’s thrilled, and you know what? To be reunited with some people that I’ve known for quite a few years and have worked with in the past makes it even better.”
The people Stothers refers to are Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa, whom he served under as OHL-Owen Sound’s Head Coach from 2002-07, and Assistant Coach John Stevens, whom he served alongside as assistant coaches with AHL-Philadelphia from 1998-00.
It was also announced that former Guelph Storm assistant general manager and assistant coach Chris Hajt will join Stothers’ staff in Manchester. Hajt, 36, is a former defenseman who appeared in two Memorial Cups with Guelph and two World Junior Championships with the United States in addition to six NHL games and 477 AHL games.
“He’s a student of the game. He takes his role very seriously,” Stothers said. “As a player, things didn’t just come easily for him. He had to work at it, and I think that’s the same as in coaching. That’s what you want to see. There’s a passion to coach and improve hockey players, and I think he’s done that, and I think the fact that when you’re in junior, it’s teaching at its finest. You’ve got the rawest of raw, and every day is a teaching session. The American League is not much different. They’re graduating from junior or college, and they want to get into the NHL. You know what? There’s a lot of time spent on repetitive fundamentals, and it takes a certain person to have the patience to do so.”
Stothers explained the expectations for those who will play in Manchester next season.
“First and foremost, you want them to be a good teammate and a good person, both on and off the ice, and how they approach the game – a professional attitude. It starts with the little things, the small details of the hockey game itself. There are things to be learned from organization to organization, from level to level, and I think being a part of the Kings and the winning tradition that they’ve shown here, things are going in the right direction, and you can see that the way that they play, it’s all about the team.”
The Kings are a top puck possession NHL team, and while individual development may receive a greater focus in the AHL than broader organizational philosophies, he discussed his own interpretation of possession and its importance.
“It starts off with faceoffs, the importance of winning faceoffs and having that puck right away, whether it’s five-on-five, four on four. Especially special teams – you’ve got a power play, you want to make sure you have the puck. You get into the penalty kill, you want to make sure you get it and clear it down 200 feet. But you know what? If you have the puck, it’s a lot easier to play than when you’re chasing the puck. If you’re chasing all night, chances are you’re going to exhaust yourself. You’re going to be playing from behind, and that’s not a winning style of hockey. If you have it, make the other team work to have to get it back, and when you have it, you don’t want to give it up easily. You know what? I think the Kings, if they were not number one at it last year, they were certainly in the upper echelon of the teams in the NHL.”