WHL history ended up repeating itself and proved to be a natural fit with regards to the Prince Albert Raiders head coaching position.
On Friday, the Raiders held a press conference to announce assistant coach Jeff Truitt was promoted from the role of assistant coach to head coach. The 57-year-old fills the role vacated by a WHL coaching legend in Marc Habscheid. Habscheid, 59, resigned from the Raiders on July 14 to head to Europe to take the role as the first head coach of the Bemer Pioneers Vorarlberg located in Feldkirch, Austria.
This scene has played out before in the WHL.
Following the 2003-04 campaign, Habscheid stepped down as head coach of the Kelowna Rockets to become the head coach of Hockey Canada’s national men’s team. Truitt was promoted from associate coach to head coach with the Rockets.
He served as the Rockets associate coach for the 2003-04 campaign as they won the Memorial Cup as the tournament’s host team. Before that season, Truitt had been a Rockets assistant coach for three seasons on Habscheid’s staff from 2000 to 2003.
With Habscheid and Truitt behind the bench, the Rockets also captured a WHL title in the 2002-03 campaign.
After taking on the head coach position with the Rockets, Truitt guided them to a WHL title win in the 2004-05 campaign. He held the head coach role for two more seasons before departing to the professional ranks taking an assistant coach position with the now defunct Springfield Falcons, who were the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers at that time.
Truitt reunited with Habscheid joining the Raiders as an assistant coach before the start of the 2018-19 WHL title winning campaign. Before joining the Raiders, Truitt was an associate coach with the Red Deer Rebels from November 14, 2012 through to the end of the 2017-18 campaign, when he mutually parted ways with the Red Deer side.
With both Habscheid and Truitt behind the bench, the Raiders would win their second WHL title in team history in the 2018-19 campaign, when they topped the WHL regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record. In the post-season, the Raiders claimed the WHL crown in dramatic fashion as Dante Hannoun scored in overtime in Game 7 of the league championship series giving Prince Albert a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants before 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre.
Truitt, who is a product of Rosetown, Sask., is a natural fit as Raiders head coach. Like he did in Kelowna, Truitt will be able to continue the work that Habscheid has done with the team over the years. Habscheid took on the role of Raiders head coach back on November 1, 2014.
Last season, the Raiders posted a 28-35-4-1 record in a reload type campaign with a younger roster that still saw them qualify for the WHL Playoffs finishing eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. In the post-season, the Raiders bowed out 4-1 in a best-of-seven first round series against a stacked Winnipeg Ice side.
Going into the upcoming 2022-23 campaign, the Raiders are going to have a large contingent of returnees that Truitt has worked with. Truitt is also familiar with the Raiders prospects the team has either drafted or listed.
Becoming head coach will be fairly seamless for Truitt as he knows the teams’ players along with the current assistant coaches, management and staff. Truitt’s promotion allows the Raiders off-season work to continue to flow in a fairly regular fashion.
Had the Raiders hired someone outside the club as the head coach, the team would have experienced a transition phase where the new person would have to learn about the players, the hockey club and likely Prince Albert as a city, if that person came from outside “Hockey Town North.”
Actually, when the Raiders hired Truitt as an assistant coach before the start of the 2018-19 campaign, he gave them the option to have a succession plan in place in case an opportunity came up in the professional ranks that Habscheid couldn’t resist.
With that said, there weren’t any thoughts about Habscheid moving on when Truitt came on board with the Raiders. Truitt came to Prince Albert to fill the assistant coach vacancy created when all-time Raiders great Dave Manson left become an assistant coach with the Bakerfield Condors, who are the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. Manson is now an assistant coach with the Oilers.
Inside the Raiders organization itself, there was a belief that the 2018-19 campaign could be a special one. Manson’s strengths as a bench boss were for being a player’s coach, someone who could be a sounding board and always created an upbeat good character type atmosphere.
When Manson left, his hole was a pretty big one the Raiders had to fill. Habscheid knew that Truitt’s strengths were the same ones Manson had, which set the wheels in motion for the two to reunite in Prince Albert.
Going into the 2022-23 season, Truitt has collected 136 wins in 253 regular season games worked as head coach which includes time Habscheid was absent in Kelowna and Brett Sutter was absent in Red Deer due to commitments with Canada’s world junior team.
Truitt is well versed in filling big shoes. The Raiders head coaching role is in good hands going forward.
Lauer leave Oil Kings for NHL’s Jets
The Edmonton Oil Kings are looking for a new head coach after Brad Lauer departed for the NHL.
On Thursday, it was announced that Lauer had resigned as head coach of the Oil Kings to become an assistant coach with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets. The 55-year-old Lauer guided the Oil Kings to a WHL championship last season after posting the circuit’s second best mark in the regular season at 50-14-3-1.
The Humboldt, Sask., product joined the Oil Kings on June 27, 2018 right after the team finished last in the WHL regular season standings with a 22-42-6-2 record in the 2017-18 campaign. With Lauer behind the bench, the Oil Kings topped the WHL’s Central Division in each of the four seasons he was with the team.
Lauer leaves Oil Kings after posting a 154-46-13-10 record in regular season play. He also won the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s coach of the year for the 2019-20 campaign.
In the 2022 WHL Playoffs with Lauer behind the bench, the Oil Kings swept the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the first round and the Red Deer Rebels in the second round. Edmonton took out the Winnipeg Ice 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Championship Series and proceeded to down the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-2 in the WHL Championship Series.
At the 2022 Memorial Cup in Saint John, New Brunswick, the Oil Kings posted a 1-2 mark in their three outings.
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com