It’s been a year of changes for the Spokane Chiefs, an organization that prides itself in stability and promoting a family atmosphere. On Monday, the club announced its latest – and hopefully last – change for a while.
In a presentation on the floor at the Spokane Arena, Chiefs General Manager Matt Bardsley – just on the job himself since May 3 – introduced Ryan Smith as the 15th head coach in franchise history.
Smith, who signed a multiyear contract, had served as an associate coach the past two seasons before assuming the interim head coach title in the middle of last season, leading the Chiefs to the Western Hockey League playoffs after taking over for Adam Maglio in February and closing the regular season with a 12-13-1-0 record.
The Chiefs also named former player and Memorial Cup winner Dustin Donaghy as an assistant coach for the upcoming season.
“I am very excited about this upcoming season and can’t wait for training camp to start,” Smith said. “The Chiefs have a strong tradition of success both on and off the ice. To be part of this moving forward is truly humbling.”
During remarks at the introduction, Bardsley said hiring Smith was a “no-brainer.”
“For me evaluating, when I was going through the process getting hired and watching Spokane play, just watching the difference in how the team was playing, during the end of the season, the stretch to get into the playoffs, then once they got into the playoffs, regardless of the scores, I could just see how the team was improving,” he said.
“So when I say no-brainer, I mean, there’s a lot of good coaches out there, but I felt for us as an organization, he was the right person.”
“With (Bardsley) coming on board, we wanted it to be his decision,” Chiefs owner Bobby Brett said. “He went through a process even though that, you know, I think his initial impressions of Ryan were that Ryan did a good really good job when he took over as a head coach, but he wanted to go through a process, talk to people, and so we get to that point today.”
The changes have come quickly for the Chiefs. They found out in November that Scott Carter would step down as general manager at the conclusion of the season after six years at the helm due to health and family concerns, the announcement of which the team made in January.
“It’s nice getting this all settled,” Brett said. “We went through a process with the general manager and then get Matt on board and then another process to finalize the coaching staff. So you know, we’re pretty much set now.
“We’re very excited about Matt taking over and again, having Ryan get elevated to his position on a permanent basis and then bringing on Dustin. It’s very, very exciting.”
Smith began his coaching career in 2008 after concluding an 11-year playing career in Europe. He has extensive experience in the WHL, serving on staffs with Medicine Hat (2018-20) and Swift Current (2015-16).
“It’s been little bit longer road for me and it’s taken me all over Canada and now into the States,” Smith said.
“I always knew I wanted to be a head coach. I have that desire. I feel I can bring something to the table as a head coach and I knew it takes some time and at times you wonder if it’s going to work out. There’s nothing wrong with being an assistant – it’s a great league.
“But it’s a really proud position to be in today, not only for me, but for my wife and my son and my daughter. It’s a long road to see something pay off and can’t wait to keep going in the future.”
“We are excited for Ryan, who has earned this opportunity,” Bardsley said. “I consider him to be a modern-day coach who is a strong communicator, well-liked and respected by his peers and players, and has a strong focus on player development while preparing his team to compete and achieve overall success.”
Asked for one trait he looks for in a player, Smith replied: “Relentless.”
“What do we want to do here? We want to win championships and we want to sign pro contracts, and everything falls under that in my opinion. In order to win championships, you got to have relentless players that are competitive. And those are the players that are getting signed to contracts.
“I want our team to feel like, you know, we hate to lose, and lots of people say we’d love to win and that goes hand in hand. But that burning feeling after losing a game, you should never want to feel like that. And that drives you to play the next game to win.”
Donaghy, 33, moves into a full-time roll after starting with the Chiefs as a part-time assistant. He played for the Chiefs from 2007-09, including winning a WHL championship and Memorial Cup with the 2007-08 squad.
“After my minor pro career as a player I didn’t want to do anything else in a profession than get into coaching,” he said.
“Being 33, I’m not too far removed from (playing) and I try to keep myself as young as humanly possible so I can relate to (the players). There’s that connection, that relatability and I mean, being somewhat current with everything that they’re doing makes it a lot easier.”