Former Spokane Chiefs assistant Brett Cox, let go at the conclusion of last season, has landed in the middle of a new challenge.
Cox, 30, is both coach and general manager of the Bonnyville, Pontiacs, a Junior A team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
One of his earliest priorities is trying to land former Chiefs winger Yegor Mikhailov, whose rookie year in Spokane was interrupted by the crash last January of the team bus. Mikhailov was sidelined for the season with head and hand lacerations.
Cox, who guided the Chiefs to a 5-3 record as interim head coach while Mike Babcock was leading Team Canada to the World Junior Tournament title, wants to bring the 19-year-old Mikhailov to Bonnyville, a town of about 5,000 northeast of Edmonton, near the Saskatchewan border.
Cox thinks the small but quick forward would fit in well in the AJHL, one level below the WHL.
“My understanding is that he’ll report to camp in Spokane first. If he doesn’t fit in their plans, or elsewhere in the WHL, they (Chiefs) would like to see him play in a place where he can develop,” said Cox.
The community-owned club is still formulating a budget. This is the first season they’ve paid a full-time coach and GM. The job was previously a part-time position.
Cox’s inexperience cost him his job here. The Chiefs - who’ll play as the host team in the Memorial Cup tournament - wanted an assistant with a more extensive background. They hired 37-year-old Mike Pellino, a college head coach who assisted Babcock with Team Canada.
Prince George scrambling
The Prince George Cougars, who ransacked both the Portland Winter Hawks and the Chiefs in last spring’s playoffs, are looking for a coach in the wake of Stan Butler’s unexpected resignation.
One of what the Cougars are calling “8-10 legitimate candidates” is former Kamloops Blazers coach Ed Dempsey, who was fired after a weird turn of events in Title Town.
Blazers GM Stu MacGregor said late in the season that Dempsy had been granted a year’s extension. Apparently the club’s governor, Colin Day, nullified that arrangement and Dempsey was sacked on May 22.
Dempsey, 76-59-2 in two seasons, told the Kamloops Daily News that he was interested in replacing Butler in Prince George.
Butler, who took PG to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, hired on as coach and general manager in Brampton, Ontario, an expansion team in the Ontario Hockey League.
Cougars GM Dennis Polonich said he narrowed a list of 15-20 inquiries to 8-10 candidates and is “in the process of talking to a couple of people, waiting for a response.
“A couple are entertaining pro offers,” Polonich said. “We’ll have the decision by this weekend or early next week.”
Butler coached in Prince George last season while his family remained in the Toronto area. He said his daughter is developmentally disabled and is changing schools, and he felt it was in his family’s best interests for him to seek employment close to home.
The reason is understandable, Polonich said, but the timing was “horrible.
“You’d like to know about this in May or June,” he said.
Around the WHL
The Chiefs open their exhibition season on Sept. 6 in Lethbridge against former Chiefs coach Byran Maxwell’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. … Spokane’s only home preseason game is Sept. 14 with Portland at Eagles Ice-A-Rena. … Former Chief Dmitri Leonov’s agent is talking with International Hockey League clubs, angling for an invite to camp for the player. … Greg Leeb, Joel Boschman and Mike Haley are penciled in as the three over-ages on the Chiefs roster, but 20-year-olds John Cirjak, Joe Cardarelli, Trent Whitfield and Hugh Hamilton are also expected among the 50-plus who’ll report for camp here on Aug. 27. “Those four have the mind-set that they’re coming here to get in shape for pro camp and want to move on,” Chiefs GM Tim Speltz said Wednesday. “If we get any of them back it’s a bonus.” Of the seven 20-year-olds, only Hamilton and Cardarelli have signed pro contracts but NHL clubs have until midnight the night before their regular-season opener to sign them. NHL rookies who aren’t under contract by then return to their junior clubs. Before then, look for Whitfield to be signed and in place as a third- or fourth-line center and penalty killer for the Boston Bruins. … The Chiefs have to be down to three 20-year-olds by Nov.1. … Spokane was interested in swinging a deal for Kamloops center Shawn McNeil, who eventually wound up with the Red Deer Rebels over the summer. Red Deer sent left winger and NHL first-round choice Mike Brown (Florida Panthers) to Kamloops for the versatile McNeil. Brown (243 penalty minutes) gives the Blazers some toughness. … Former Chiefs assistant Parry Shockey, new coach of the WHL Regina Pats, has hired Ron Craft away from the University of Lethbridge to be his assistant. … Shaun Fleming, who saw time in goal for the Chiefs last exhibition season, will come to camp as Spokane’s No. 2 netminder behind Aren Miller… . The Chiefs expect to sell close to 6,000 ticket packages this year, up from last year’s record 5,000.
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