The Moose Jaw Warriors are the first team to make a coaching change in the 2019-20 Western Hockey League season.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon at Mosaic Place, the club announced that Tim Hunter had been relieved of his head coaching duties and would be replaced by associate coach Mark O’Leary.
“I met with Tim this morning,” Warriors general manager Alan Millar said. “He’s a good man and a good coach, but at this time we just feel like it’s time to turn the page and look at a new direction.
“Tim was in the final year of his contract and I had come to a decision over the last couple of weeks that I wasn’t going to renew his deal or offer him a new contract in the summer. I felt it was only fair to him and someone that I have too much respect for to not string him along over the next 30 games during what has been a very difficult season. This gives Tim lots of time to find another opportunity in the game and I’m very confident that he will.”
The 59-year-old Hunter was in his sixth season as the head coach for the Warriors and was the all-time leader in wins by a coach for the club with a 189-134-33 mark.
The Warriors had made the playoffs during the last four campaigns and reached the quarter-final round in 2016 and 2018.
During his time with the club, Hunter also had the chance to serve an assistant coach for Canada’s entry at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2017 and 2018 before becoming the head coach in 2019.
“Tim deserves a lot of credit in helping to heighten the profile of our program during his time here,” Millar said.
“We had our best regular season under him (a 52-win campaign in 2017-18) and we had a number of players that developed under Tim and moved on to pro opportunities.”
O’Leary has been part of the Warriors coaching staff since the summer of 2012 and had served as the bench boss when Hunter was with Hockey Canada.
The club did not put an interim tag on the 34-year-old and are currently in discussions with him on a long-term contract.
“It’s been a whirlwind here today with a mixed bag of emotions,” O’Leary said.
“Tim’s a big part of why I’m in the position that I’m in today. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done in terms of challenging me to be a better coach. I certainly learn a ton from him about the small details of the game and I’m very grateful for that.”
The Warriors look more than likely to miss the post-season for the first time since 2015 as they are in last place in the East Division with a 11-22-2-0 mark and are 15 points back of the Saskatoon Blades for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I know that we’re a young team but we have a lot of things to be excited about here,” O’Leary said.
“It’s not going to change overnight, but I like our staff and the group in the room and we’re set for big things as we move forward.”
The Warriors will be back in action on Wednesday as they’ll host the league-leading Edmonton Oil Kings.
Around the WHL
Prior to the coaching change in Moose Jaw, the biggest news item of the day was the Red Deer Rebels trading overage forward Brett Davis to the Lethbridge Hurricanes for a fourth round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft.
Davis, who is from Oakbank, Man., was tied for second on the Rebels in scoring this year with 24 points in 37 games.
He started his WHL career with the Hurricanes before being dealt to the Kootenay Ice at the 2017 trade deadline.
In order to get back down to three overage players, the Hurricanes waived former Prince Albert Raiders forward D-Jay Jerome.
Jerome, who was acquired by the Hurricanes from the Victoria Royals in the summer, had 28 points in 40 games for the club.
Around the CHL
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League trade deadline finished with a bang on Monday as three members of Canada’s gold-medal winning side at the World Juniors were dealt to new teams.
The Chicoutimi Sagueneens continued their all-in approach by landing 18-year-old forward Dawson Mercer from the Drummondville Voltigeurs for six draft picks and 19-year-old Edmonton Oilers forward prospect Raphael Lavoie for four draft picks.
Mercer, who is a potential first round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, has 42 points in 26 games this season, while Lavoie led the Mooseheads in scoring with 44 points in 30 games.
Having already landed Anaheim Ducks forward prospect Benoit-Olivier Groulx from the Mooseheads prior to Christmas, the Moncton Wildcats made another deal with their Maritimes Division rivals as they acquired 19-year-old Detroit Red Wings defensive prospect Jared McIsaac for four draft picks.
McIsaac only played in three games for the Mooseheads prior to the World Juniors as he was sidelined for most of the first half of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer.