There is a definite sense that there is a new sheriff in town as far as the Spokane Chiefs are concerned.
“I don’t think any team can win unless they have a leader that puts in the work and shows the guys what is required,” Don Nachbaur said Wednesday after being introduced as the 11th coach in the history of the Western Hockey League franchise. “I pride myself in that.”
Nachbaur, a successful player and coach in the WHL as well as the professional ranks, fits all the criteria Spokane general manager Tim Speltz was looking for as it became evident who was going to replace Hardy Sauter.
He hoped to find a person with head coaching experience, “junior experience would be great; maybe pro experience, that would be excellent,” Speltz said. “But the biggest thing is we wanted somebody that had success.”
Nachbaur fits that bill with 431 wins in 12 seasons in the WHL, ninth on the all-time list, and because of that he gets an unprecedented five-year contract.
“I think you have in your mind what you would like … at the same time you can’t control what kind of candidates come forward,” Speltz said, adding there were a number of strong candidates before Nachbaur resigned his American Hockey League job last week. “For me, our process went very quickly after Don Nachbaur was available.
“Fortunately one of the criteria was not to keep it a secret so we didn’t fail there. It was assumed and speculated on because it was such a natural and a good fit, probably just flat out makes a lot of sense.”
Nachbaur, 51, spent one year in the AHL after six seasons with the rival Tri-City Americans. He also coached the Seattle Thunderbirds.
“I’m excited about being here,” he said. “For the first time in my life coming in this building it’s the first time I’ve felt welcome. We’ve had some tremendous wars.”
He said his experience allows him to mold his system to the talents of his players, but there is no bending his basic premise.
“My expectations are pretty simple,” he said. “I’m a really intense guy. The players will understand that when they see me on the ice the first day. I’m human, the guys can come and talk to me. I’m a good listener, a great communicator. But I raise the bar high. The reason I do that is because I was a pro.
“When I was a player I was fortunate enough to play in two Stanley Cups and three Calder Cups in the American Hockey League. It takes a special person to win. Anybody can lose. It’s a lot of desire, dedication, determination and hard work. That’s something I pride myself in as a coach.”
That is part of developing players and as players develop, winning follows, which is what he learned playing for Dave King with the Billings Bighorns more than 30 years ago.
“He instilled some things in me that I didn’t think were possible,” Nachbaur said of becoming tougher and competing harder, which led to a 98-point season and getting picked in the third-round of the 1979 NHL draft. “I thought I was a skill guy. I learned how hard I had to compete.”
Development is going to be crucial because the Chiefs have lost a lot of top-end talent.
“It’s a young team coming back this year,” Nachbaur said. “There’s some challenges rebuilding. … leadership (from players) is the key … with words or action.
“I think you’re going to see lots of passion coming out of me, similar to the way (Mike Babcock) was, or Billy Peters (both former Chiefs coaches). The guys that have success, that passion flows from the coach to the player. The end result is they take on your personality.”
In other words, that bar is high.
“Past tradition dictates people love to win here, I do, too,” Nachbaur said. “We’re going to pass that on to the players. I can guarantee you teams that I coach will work and compete. Fans will get their money’s worth. There won’t be nights off, that won’t be acceptable. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
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