The Prince Albert Raiders have their 15th head coach in their history, and they didn’t have to go far to get him.
GM Curtis Hunt announced that Raiders assistant Jeff Truitt would move up to the head coaching spot during a press conference at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday. Truitt joined the Raiders for the 2018-19 season under previous head coach Marc Habscheid, who resigned to take a job with Pioneers Voralberg of the Austrian ICE Hockey League eight days ago.
Hunt said there was no doubt Truitt was the right man for the job.
“Talk about a guy overqualified in his position,” Hunt said. “I think Jeff comes to work every day and will try to get a little better every day, and you see that in how our players develop, especially those guys directly under his care.”
Truitt himself is thrilled to get started as head coach of the Raiders.
“It’s been a while and I am really excited for it,” he said. “It’s always something that you look forward to doing. I have been an assistant coach a long time, but I have also had head coaching experiences, so now it is just a matter of stepping up here your game here a little bit.
“Obviously, you can make the decisions, and I have had a lot of great teachers over the years. I have experience myself and I am real excited about returning.”
Hunt has known the 57-year-old Truitt since their playing days. Like Truitt, he’s excited for the upcoming season.
“I’m excited for him, I’m excited for us, I’m excited for our players,” Hunt said. “He has got a lot to draw on. He talked about Marc and the experience that Marc brings, but he also draws on Brent Sutter—certainly there is a successful program there as well—his pro experiences through the Dallas Stars and of course going all the way back to the Kelowna days, Bruce Hamilton and the Lethbridge days with Maxie (Bryan Maxwell).”
Hunt said that previous experience was a big part of the reason they decided to hire Truitt. Hunt also said the hiring would lead to a seamless transition for the club.
Truitt began his coaching career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 1993-1994 staying there until getting a head coaching position with the Camrose Kodiaks of the AJHL in 1997-1998. He stayed in Camrose until 2000-2001 when he joined the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. There he joined Habscheid and won the Memorial Cup on home ice in 2004.
He was an assistant with Kelowna until 2004-2005 when he was promoted to head coach. The similarities between the two situations was not lost on Truitt.
“I just think it’s a real good thing as an organization to hire from within,” Truitt said. “I know there is a lot of great quality guys out there that are looking for head coaching jobs, but it’s really something special.”
Hunt said they had an idea Habscheid might be leaving, so they were able to do some work in advance. Although there were some qualified candidates that reached out about the job, Hunt was happy to stick with Truitt.
“I think you don’t necessarily hire someone to replace (Habscheid),” Hunt said. “We hired Jeff based on the relationship he had with Marc knowing and understanding what was leaving with Dave Manson and it’s just a great fit. It’s a great fit for our organization.
“It’s hard to move up the ladder in our business and Marc was here for eight years. If you look at that, you look at our scouting, we have hired from within as well. There is some familiarity there, and I think it breeds loyalty as well.”
Hunt said the Raiders believe in developing coaches as well as players. That includes things like travelling to clinics, conferences, or attending them online so they can improve.
Truitt himself wants to build on the culture left by Habscheid. The extends to finding a new assistant coach, which Truitt and Hunt will discuss in the coming days.
“Our culture has been there for a lot of years (and) Marc has been the driving force of that,” Truitt said. “We are certainly going to continue to reinforce that. There will be the odd little change here and there, but the Raider way and Raider pride is a staple and we want that to continue.”
Truitt added that his familiarity with the players will make the transition a bit easier.
“They know me, so there is certainly a level of comfort there, but now comes the adjustment of hearing that voice now and setting the trail. That’s what’s important. I’m excited for the players, I’m excited that the players will be returning. Hopefully they are feeling the same way and we just want to continue to progress and play the best brand of hockey that we can.”
With training camp set to start in September, Truitt said they still have planning and organization work that needs to be done. He’s confident the support staff will be ready.
Truitt is also excited by some Raiders prospects who they have received a look at last season.
“I am really looking forward to seeing some of the younger guys and you don’t want to name names all of the time but we got a glimpse of Cole Peardon and Ryder Ritchie last year, along with a couple of other guys as well, and it does get you excited now,” he said. “It is for keeps now, (so we’ll) see how they have developed and have them coming back here.”
Peardon and Ritchie were both recently invited to the Hockey Canada national under-17 development camp.
The Raiders regular season opens on Friday, September 23 against the Saskatoon Blades at the Art Hauser Centre.
“It’s a great day to be a Raider,” Hunt said. “Season tickets are still available.”