It’s the end of an era.
Bill Peters is gone, and with less than three weeks until training camp begins for the Spokane Chiefs, it’s time to move forward – quickly.
The search for the defending Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion Chiefs’ next bench boss began immediately upon Friday’s announcement that Peters accepted a job with the Chicago Blackhawks organization as the head coach of Chicago’s American Hockey League affiliate Rockford IceHogs.
General manager Tim Speltz made it clear on Friday morning that assistant coach Hardy Sauter is the leading candidate for the position. Sauter, who was a Chiefs defenseman in the early 1990s, served as Peters’ assistant coach last season and re-signed with the team this summer after the Chiefs won the Memorial Cup.
“We felt when we hired Hardy Sauter as an assistant coach that he was definitely a head coaching candidate,” Speltz said. “I was thrilled when Hardy agreed to come back for another year, because if he would have told me that he was going to actively pursue a head coaching job and that he wanted to be available for that I wouldn’t have been surprised. I think when I look at it, if Bill would have told us at the end of the Memorial Cup run that I’m going to put my resume out and actively try to find a job that Hardy would have been our No. 1 candidate. The fact that it’s happened this late doesn’t change anything.
“When I look at our team, I like our team, the steps that we’ve taken as an organization, especially last year, and Hardy was a big part of that. I’d like to have some consistency and continuity for our players in moving forward.”
Peters left Friday for Calgary, Alberta, to begin the selection process for Team Canada’s summer Under-18 team that will play in the Memorial of Ivan Klinka tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic from Aug. 12-16.
In Peters’ three seasons as head coach for the Chiefs, Spokane went from worst to first in a remarkable turnaround for the club. That included an improvement in wins and points from the previous season in every season Peters was here, including an 11-win and 22-point turnaround from 2005-06 to 2006-07 and a 14-win and 27-point improvement from ’06-’07 to last season.
Things came together last season when the Chiefs tied a single-season franchise record with 50 wins and set team records with 107 points and fewest goals allowed in a single season (160, 2.22 per game). The season culminated with the team winning the inaugural Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions and the storied Memorial Cup championship – the 60-team Canadian Hockey League title.
The NHL coaching conversations began to swirl around Peters almost immediately, but Peters – who signed a three-year contract extension in December – made it clear he would not leave Spokane unless it was for the right job.
“I knew he wanted to coach in the NHL,” Sauter said. “Bill and I kept in touch while I was on holiday (earlier this summer), but he never said he was going to any interviews so I figured it would just be status quo, which is fine. We work well together. Bill is a great guy and easy to work for, so there was no problem from my end with that.
“I’m happy for him. He got a chance, and it sounds like a really good one. Quite honestly, I don’t think he would have taken just anything. Good for him – that he feels he got the right chance.”
Now it just might be Sauter’s turn to get his right chance.