UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Scott Gordon faced a probing question in the time between accepting the job as head coach of the New York Islanders and his introductory news conference.
It didn’t come from a reporter and it wasn’t posed by general manager Garth Snow. No, the insightful inquiry was made by wife Jennifer – a ballet instructor.
“Are you nervous?” she asked.
He didn’t tap dance around the question then and he didn’t Wednesday when the reigning AHL coach of the year was asked again as he took the responsibility of leading the struggling Islanders’ youth movement.
“I’ve built a quiet confidence within myself where the most nerve-racking part was this right here – the press conference,” the 45-year-old Gordon said. “And that more than anything was just because we didn’t have that (in the AHL).”
Gordon was hired by the Islanders on Tuesday night to replace Ted Nolan, dismissed by the club in July after two seasons behind the New York bench. Philosophical differences were cited by both Nolan and Snow when they parted ways, and Gordon became Snow’s first coaching hire in his two years as GM.
Gordon has never coached in any capacity in the NHL, but boasts a resume that includes five years as head coach of the Providence Bruins, the team he led to the AHL’s top record last season.
He comes from a similar background as Snow. Both are from New England and both played goalie. They met at a training camp back in 1987 as members of the Quebec Nordiques organization.
Snow doesn’t remember much about that first meeting, but he felt instantly comfortable with Gordon during the interview process and had no qualms or concerns about hiring him.
“I could tell right away when he walked through my office door that there was chemistry and that we were speaking the same language,” Snow said.
Gordon said his initial interview with Snow lasted seven hours. Although there were no promises or guarantees that he would get the job, Gordon figured that if the GM was interested enough to keep him at Nassau Coliseum that long, that had to at least be a good sign.
Snow made the choice of Gordon over other household name coaches who have lots of NHL experience and three that also have a Stanley Cup title – such as John Tortorella, Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford.
Now Gordon is getting a big break in the big leagues but he is inheriting a club that tied for the fourth fewest points in the NHL last season. The Islanders have veterans at forward in captain Bill Guerin and newcomer Doug Weight, as well as on defence with hard-hitting Brendan Witt.
The key to any success will be the play and health of goalie Rick DiPietro, a Massachusetts native like Gordon, who still has more than a decade left on a 15-year deal. But most importantly will be the development of youngsters Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Jeff Tambellini, and this year’s first-round draft pick Josh Bailey.
Before taking the job, Gordon watched tapes of three late-season Islanders games to get a feel for the club.
“I feel that my experience in Providence will help me,” Gordon said. “Coaching is coaching.”
Nolan was resistant to the Islanders’ plan to go with a youth movement, so it was time for Snow to move on to someone who would embrace the idea. Gordon is New York’s fifth coach in six seasons – the 14th overall.
Under Gordon, Providence went 55-18-3 last season, and in five seasons with the team, he was 221-141-20-27. He was an assistant with Providence for three seasons before taking over as head coach, and worked in the ECHL before that.
“We didn’t have the team that anybody would’ve picked to win the amount of games that we did,” Gordon said. “It didn’t just take coaching Xs and Os, it took the players buying into the system that we play and being accountable to each other. That’s kind of the last step in my development as a coach in refining the team chemistry part of it – how to get the guys to want to play for each other.
“I’ve been able to find what works and doesn’t work and been able to do it on a small stage and not have to have the growing pains, hopefully, at the NHL level.”