By Patrick Williams
One year prior, a long-serving hockey guy is contending with media hordes and high-pressure atmosphere that accompany a head-coaching job in a Canadian NHL city that plays host to a deep club coming off a Stanley Cup run.
Fast forward a year and that same hockey veteran is charged with evaluating young prospects as he prepares to take another crack at coaching. This time, though, the coaching gig is of the American League variety. Same job, different dynamic.
Now, the long-time player, coach, scout and all-around hockey guy stands in a cold practice rink a few minutes after his club notched their first AHL pre-season win of the year. A few hundred fans managed to escape their workday for a few hours to take in the contest.
Fans did not expect to see John Paddock stationed behind an AHL bench this season. And in no way did Paddock envision himself in such a role, either.
A scouting position with the Senators seemed Paddock’s likely role this season, some seven months after Ottawa dismissed him late in a turmoil-filled 2007-08 season. That turmoil cost the hockey veteran his long-awaited second NHL head-coaching job that had eluded him since he exited the same post with the Winnipeg Jets in the mid-1990s.
But as predictable as the hockey world can often be, it occasionally serves up something new, something different, and so Paddock returns for his first AHL coaching gig since his Binghamton Senators crashed in the 2005 Calder Cup playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers had promoted their AHL head coach, Craig Berube, to an assistant’s role alongside John Stevens after the Los Angeles Kings lured Terry Murray to the West Coast.
Murray’s departure and Berube’s promotion meant Flyers GM Paul Holmgren needed to find himself another hockey man to run his organization’s AHL bench affairs.
To fill the role, Holmgren turned to Paddock, whose Flyer ties run deep. So sturdy and long-lasting are those loyalties that this season’s turn with the Phantoms will be Paddock’s third AHL coaching stint with the Flyers, a run that extends back to the 1981-82 campaign when Paddock served briefly with the old Maine Mariners while still a player.
“It was an opportunity that I was surprised happened that late in the summer,” Paddock admitted. “It was something that I just didn’t think I could turn down. That late in the summer, I probably wouldn’t have taken many other coaching jobs in the American League.
“But it was comfortable and familiar. It seems like there are a dozen or 14 or 15 people that I’ve coached, played with or worked with in some capacity over the past 25 years.”
The 54-year-old Manitoban knows how to win at the AHL level. To go with Paddock’s three Calder Cup championships as a coach is a 542-392-93 record. Those 542 wins place Paddock third on the AHL’s all-time list for coaching wins. Along the way, Paddock has run AHL benches for three different NHL organizations – the Flyers, Rangers and Senators – in Maine, Hershey, Binghamton and Hartford.
Along with the learning curve associated with re-acquainting himself with the AHL, Paddock seems likely to face other considerable challenges this season. Although, they figure to differ markedly from the chaos he was asked to sort out with the Sens last winter.
With a lame-duck AHL team playing out the string at the storied Spectrum in Philadelphia, Flyers management offered little activity in the AHL personnel market this past summer.
Among the departed are Kyle Greentree, Ryan Potulny, Stefan Ruzicka and Pete Zingoni, taking 84 goals out of last season’s Philadelphia lineup. Only Jonathan Matsumoto, plugger Boyd Kane and promising rookie Claude Giroux remain as proven or bona fide potential goal-scoring threats.
However, coaching in the AHL means Paddock can avoid the big-contract, high-stakes issues that can percolate in an NHL setting, especially in a pressure-cooker like Ottawa. The egos, like the salaries, generally calibrate differently at a level below.
“There are some things that are different,” Paddock said. “But from the time you come to the rink in the morning until the time you leave, it’s the same. Coaching is coaching.”
Patrick Williams is THN.com’s American Hockey League blogger. To read his entries, click HERE.