CANTLON’S CORNER: GERNANDER SPEAKS ABOUT HARTFORD

CANTLON’S CORNER: GERNANDER SPEAKS ABOUT HARTFORD

BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT  It was not a total surprise, but it was still a major shock as the association between the Hartford Wolf Pack and Ken Gernander has ended.

After 10 years and 776 games as the team’s head coach, two years as an assistant coach and 599 games as a player that ended with his number 12 being retired and hanging in the rafters, Gernander, who once referred to the XL Center as his, “second home,” will now clean out his coach’s office after being officially let go by the parent New York Rangers. He was the second-longest tenured coach in the AHL behind only San Jose’s Roy Sommer (19 years).

Gernander, 47, has been a part of the Rangers organization since 1994-‘95 when their farm team was in Binghamton. 23 years is a long time in ANY business. He was informed on Friday and has had some time to digest the news.

“I have had a few days and have run the gamut of emotions,” Gernander said. “Moving forward, I have a lot more to consider other than myself with a wife and three children. This is the only home my kids have known. I’m gonna take my time to review what may lie ahead. This is a big decision.”

Gernander confirmed that he was offered a position within the organization, but has not made a decision as of yet on whether to accept the position he was offered. His assistants from last season Keith McCambridge and assistant GM Pat Boller are likely to remain at this point.

Until this season, Gernander never had a team finish below .500. He has a career winning percentage of .576 over his first nine seasons as head coach, but over the last five years, things have been slipping. The teams have usually had dreadful first halves only to see the team turn things around. That was until this season when that never materialized. Gernander’s teams have missed the playoffs in four of the last five years. That didn’t help his cause as it seemed as if reaching players was getting harder and harder each season.

“As a coach, you do the best you can at the time with the player, data, past performance and all the information you can possess and do your best job,”   Gernander said. inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2012-13 and was a

Gernander was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2012-13 and was a two-time Fred T. Hunt Award winner as a player. Gernander is second all-time in the team scoring categories at 160-187-347 behind only Brad ‘Shooter” Smyth. He is the second highest scoring US-born forward in AHL history only topped by Keith Aucoin.

The Rangers have not named a successor to Gernander at this point and will be done so at a later date according to a team press release generated in New York.

His highlight of his 20 years was a quick easy answer- The 2000 Calder Cup title, the only hockey championship in the city’s history.

“I was so proud to be a part of that group. Very few get to enjoy the thrill of winning a title. I respect that whole group it was very special to me.”

Gernander accumulated a record as a head coach of 388-304-84 as his team made the playoffs five of his ten seasons. The last five however they made the playoffs just once going to the conference finals in the 2014-15 season losing to the eventual Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs.

Under his guidance, a slew of Rangers prospects dot the Ranger lineup now and throughout the NHL.

In New York,  the Rangers list of ex-Pack players includes Rangers captain Ryan McDonough, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Brady Skeij, Pavel Buchnevitch and Tanner Glass.

“I’m very happy for all those players. It would be a big assumption that I had a lot to with their successes,” The ever humble Gernander stated. “They made the sacrifices and make the plays. I can offer some tips and guidance along the way. I have been pretty fortunate to be able to help a little for them to see their goals achieved and realized.”

Glass, the 33-year-old veteran, was a textbook example of Gernander using his best assets to be prepared for recall and was an important part of the Rangers over the last third of the regular season and in the playoffs.

“Tanner had character. When he got here that trait was a part of him already. We just got him the time to replenish his game. Glass had determination. It’s unique to him and will take him as far he wants in hockey and wherever life takes him.” remarked Gernander.

33-year-olds don’t usually come to the AHL to thrive. Gernander knew Glass was his type of guy and he rewarded his efforts with playing time. He respected what he brought to the locker room every day. While many a veteran would not have been as good as he was, that came in part because Gernander gave him the time.

13 former Wolf Pack players are still in the NHL. Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus), Ryan Callahan (Tampa Bay), Artem Anisimov (Chicago), Tommy Pyatt (Ottawa), Pierre Parenteau (Nashville), Dale Weise (Philadelphia), Cam Talbot (Edmonton), Michael Del Zotto (Philadelphia), Al Montoya (Montreal), Jonathan Marchessault (Florida), Chad Johnson (Calgary), John Mitchell (Colorado), Michael Haley (San Jose), Carl Hagelin (Pittsburgh) and Jayson Megna (Vancouver).

Two of Gernander’s former teammates from his last season playing in 2004-05 are still playing. Domenic Moore is skating in Boston with the Bruins and Fedor Tyutin is in Colorado.

Three of Gernander’s assistants are in the business. Ulf Samuelsson is the head coach with Charlotte (AHL), JJ Daigneault is with Montreal and Jeff Beukeboom (Rangers).

“I’ve had a lot of good people to work with over the years and I’m proud to have worked with all of them and the office and equipment staff and I really want to thank them, the fans and the greater Hartford community.”

Gernander might seek a fresh start. There is an opening for an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota as Grant Potulny took the head coaching job at Northern Michigan two weeks ago.

The Gernander dismissal was not the only other news regarding the Wolf Pack organization.

Rangers Senior VP and Assistant GM, Jim Schoenfeld, who shepherded Gernander into the coaching ranks for two years and has held the title of GM in Hartford since 2007, relinquished his duties and they are being taken up by Trumbull native, Chris Drury, who was elevated from assistant GM to the GM spot.

“I want to thank Ken for his tireless work and dedication to the Wolf Pack and the Rangers organization,” Schoenfeld said in the team press release. “He represented the organization the right way, both on and off the ice. I have had the good fortune of working closely with Kenny as a player, assistant coach, and head coach over the last twelve years and wish him all the best going forward.”

Drury, 40, returned to the organization as a Director of Player Development/Coach three years ago and has been on the rise ever since. Drury was rumored to be on the short list for consideration in Buffalo (the Rangers refused the Sabres request to speak with him) for the open GM slot filled by Jason Botterill late last week. Drury played in Buffalo.

Drury is practically a household name in Connecticut. He grew up in the spotlight starting as a ten-year pitching phenom where he led his Trumbull team to the Little League World Series title in 1989. He would skate with the Bridgeport Wizards wins the US National Pee Wee tournament that year and played in the prestigious Quebec International Peewee tournament with West Haven native and current Bridgeport assistant coach, Eric Boguniecki, as his linemate.

He played his high school hockey at Fairfield Prep leading the Jesuits to a state title in his sophomore year upsetting an unbeaten and untied Hamden team at the XL Center (nee Hartford Civic Center). His number 18, that both he and his brother Ted wore with Prep, is retired at the Bridgeport Wonderland of Ice Arena.

He was drafted in Hartford in 1993 by the Quebec Nordiques. He went on to win the Hobey Baker Award and NCAA title with Boston University.

Drury won a Calder trophy as Rookie of the Year and captured Lord Stanley with the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 where the Nordiques had moved to. Drury is the only player ever to win the Hobey Baker and Calder trophy.

He played 892 NHL games with 615 points and another 89 points in 135 playoff games and spent the last four years of his illustrious career with the Rangers before a knee injury ended his playing days.

Drury still ranks as one of the greatest Stanley Cup playoff performers with 17 game-winning goals, tied for the fifth spot alongside greats like Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Mike Bossy and Claude Lemieux. He has four overtime game-winning goals putting him among the pantheon of greats like Maurice ‘The Rocket” Richard, Gretzky and Sakic.

The Rangers are obviously hoping he can instill his winning pedigree in their youth that performed so poorly this season.

The Rangers organization said the press release would be their only comment on the moves and Drury was not made available to the media.

Comments are closed.