Wanting to take advantage of two years of on-the-job training, the Spokane Chiefs extended the contract of coach Al Conroy.
“Our goal is to develop players, we want to reap the benefits,” general manager Tim Conroy said Tuesday. “We want to develop the coach and reap those benefits. With the experience Al has gained the last two seasons we feel he is capable of taking our team to the next level.”
Conroy, who has a 58-65-10-11 record in two seasons with the Western Hockey League team, signed a one-year contract with a club option for a second year.
“I am looking forward to the next step in the coaching process,” Conroy said. “We need to take some big strides in the coming year and we will. We want to be more consistent with the quality group of players we have returning. We are confident we will get that done.”
The Chiefs were 32-29-4-7 for 75 points, a 13-point improvement over Conroy’s first year, but the team was swept out of the first round of the playoffs by Everett.
“The decision part didn’t take that long,” said Speltz, who said after the disappointing playoff loss that he would take at least a month to evaluate the situation. “We didn’t want to make an emotional decision, we didn’t want to lay blame. The meetings took a while to get started. We met and went through things. I was interested in what he thought we had to do improve and Al had an action plan.
“Collectively we want to get better,” he continued. “We haven’t deviated from that. Al is committed, he is loyal, he is hard-working and he is dedicated to the players. Those are good qualities to have. The one thing he didn’t have when we hired him is experience.”
Conroy played four years with the Medicine Hat Tigers, scoring 446 points, which is 15th on the WHL all-time list. Then he played 15 years in professional hockey and served one year as an assistant coach with the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League before he was hired to replace Perry Ganchar in Spokane.
“In the last month I took time to watch hockey and evaluate what I need to do and evaluate what the team needs to do,” Conroy said. “A coach can improve or lean as much in the summer as he can in the winter. In the winter it’s hectic, you’re going seven days. In the summer you can step back and take stock.
“The players need to understand they have to be more responsible for themselves, it’s not up to the other guy. … It’s knowing at the end of the night or at the end of practice, ‘I did what I can do.’ It’s what I need to do. We’re all going to be more accountable.”
Speltz explained, “The difference is not saying it, it’s doing it. It’s not talking the talk but walking the walk. … We’re not that far from the next level.”
Conroy, who was hired on June 14, 2002, is fourth among WHL coaches in terms of service with his current team. Only Kelowna’s Marc Habscheid, Red Deer’s Brent Sutter – who is also an owner – and Portland’s Mike Williamson have been with their teams longer.
Kootenay also hired its coach in the summer of 2002. Lethbridge and Prince George hired new coaches during the last season. Seattle and Vancouver have new coaches since the end of the season and Brandon, Calgary, Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon and Swift Current are still without coaches.
The Chiefs are still in need of an assistant coach to replace Jamie Huscroft, who resigned at the end of the season to return to his family in Seattle.
“We have begun the search for an assistant coach,” Speltz said. “Obviously this is a key component to our coaching staff.”
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