Chilliwack Bruins head coach and general manager Marc Habscheid has reached into the past to fill a void in the present, hiring former National Hockey Leaguer Pat Conacher as his new right-hand man.
Conacher replaces Bob Rouse, who left the Bruins May 3.
He keeps intact Habscheid’s habit of working with former big-league teammates. Last year’s coaching staff included Rouse and Dave Archibald, both of whom played with Habscheid on the Minnesota North Stars of the early 1980’s.
Conacher was a short-lived teammate of Habscheid’s on the 1983-84 Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers.
They were also teammates on the 1983-84 Moncton Alpines (AHL) and 1984-85 with the American Nova Scotia Oilers (AHL).
Conacher signed with New Jersey as a free agent in 1985, but the two re-united 14 years later with the Kelowna Rockets.
Conacher was an assistant coach with Habscheid during the 1999-00 season.
“The big thing when you look at the overall picture is winning,” Conacher said of his motivation for joining the Bruins. “That’s what sports are all about, and you have to be associated with the right people to win.”
More than once, Habscheid and Rouse talked about the comraderie of the good ol’ days, hanging out in the dressing room and reminiscing about their years in Minnesota.
Conacher doesn’t appear to be a sentimental sort.
“Marc and I, we don’t talk much about the old times,” he said. “People don’t realize how much time is consumed running a hockey team day in and day out, dealing with 22 individuals. It’s a big job keeping the ship going in the right direction.”
Conacher snuck into town a couple times to meet the hockey and business staff, and said he was impressed with everything he saw.
“One thing that was crystal clear was that the ownership group has done a great job providing the resources to have a winner here, and they are committed to doing that,” Conacher observed. “It starts at the top and it’s good to be a coach in that kind of environment.”
Conacher talked about shared ideals, and meshing his philosophy with Habscheid’s.
The two coaches hold the same viewpoint where hard work, commitment and accountability are concerned.
“You set the bar, and anything below that is unacceptable, and that holds true for everyone, from the ownership to the coaching staff and players to the people working in the office,” Conacher said. “People call that culture. Everyone wants to build it, but not everyone can. Marc’s proven he can do it at the junior level, and the Rockets still have the same culture that Marc implemented when he was there almost a decade ago.”
Conacher has a lot of studying ahead of him as he tries to re-familarize himself with the Western Hockey League.
As a teenager, he played for the Billings Bighorns (1978-79) and Saskatoon Blades (1979-80) before heading to the big leagues.
Aside from that one year as an assistant coach with the Rockets, he’s spent all of his time working in the pro ranks as a player, coach and scout.
His NHL career included 521 regular season and 67 playoff games. He was drafted in the fourth round (76th overall) of the 1979 entry draft by the New York Rangers, playing just 22 games for that franchise before moving to Edmonton as a free agent.
From Edmonton, he moved on to New Jersey for six seasons (1985-92), and then on to Los Angeles for four seasons (1992-96).
He was part of the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings team that advanced to the 1992-93 Stanley Cup finals before falling to the Montreal Canadiens.
He finished his NHL career playing seven games for Calgary (1996-96) and 13 games for the New York Islanders (1995-96).
His last on-ice experience was with the Canadian National Team, donning the maple leaf for 34 international games in 1997-98.
His coaching resume includes three years (2001-04) as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes, and two years as a head coach in the AHL with the Utah Grizzlies and San Antonio Rampage.
Most recently, he worked as a western pro scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He was out of hockey last year.
“Doing what I’ve done over the last few years, I’ve never had a chance to watch my son (Dan Conacher, 20) play hockey,” Conacher said. “I took every opportunity and saw him play around 40 games this year for the (junior A) La Ronge Ice Wolves. I followed every playoff series this year and went to the RBC Cup with him. It was a great year for me.”
Kid Conacher is heading to McGill University this fall, freeing up dad to once again focus on a hockey job.
“I’ve just been a hockey dad this year, and it was thrilling for me,” Conacher said. “Time goes by too quickly sometimes, and to be able to share his last junior year was great. Sitting in the crowd with the other hockey parents was something I haven’t done in many years.”
The Bruins get back to work in just over two months, with rookies and veterans hitting the ice in late August.