When the Eagle Drilling Estevan Bruins suit up for their home game against the Melfort Mustangs this Saturday night, they'll have a new, but familiar face at the helm. The game will be Chad Leslie's first as the team's new head coach.
Leslie was promoted to the position on Monday after the club's executive made the decision to fire then head coach and general manager Karry Biette. Bruins' president Jeff Pierson said the change is a result of the team not performing to their potential on a consistent basis.
"We just weren't where we thought we should be as a hockey club - we don't feel we're a fourth-place club, and we just felt this was necessary," Pierson said.
Biette has been with the Bruins since the start of the 2005 SJHL season, and signed a one-year contract extension this past summer. At the start of the season he made what are now infamous comments, stating that the club could fire him at Christmas if they were not in the top three in the Sherwood Conference.
When Christmas came, the Bruins had lost 10 of 13 games and sat in fourth, however Pierson maintains those comments had nothing to do with the executive's decision to let Biette go.
"No. And I know that's going to be brought up, but at the end of the day we had to look at the hockey club and see if they're going in the right direction," said Pierson. "(The comments) were something that was talked about when Karry made them and of course when the Christmas break came, they were rehashed, and I think people expected something to happen immediately, but this isn't something you do overnight."
After the team began the year with such high expectations, and a fairly strong start they were plagued by inconsistent play - something everyone involved agrees led to Biette's dismissal.
"I think that is a huge part of it," said Bruins forward Dylan Smith. "I don't think he's (Biette) to blame for all of this - we have a team here to win, and we didn't put in the effort that was needed to win on some nights."
When the time came to make a change, Pierson and the executive knew they could turn to Leslie as he has a great hockey mind as well as the respect of the players. Pierson said they have a lot of faith in Leslie and he's quite certain he can take the Bruins to where they need to be.
While he was sad to see Biette go, team captain Troy Hunter shares Pierson's confidence in Leslies' abilities.
"Karry did a lot for the team and the organization so it's tough to see him go, but I think we can get rolling here with Chad stepping in as head coach," Hunter said. "It'll be good, he's young and has some good ideas so hopefully it's the change we need to get going again."
With Biette gone, the Bruins lose one of the league's best deal makers so his general managing skills will definitely be missed, especially with the SJHL's Jan. 10 trade deadline rapidly approaching, but Pierson believes the tandem of Leslie and director of player personnel, Rick Oakes can get the job done adequately.
"Karry was a phenomenal general manager, and that will be a very tough hole to fill. In saying that, Rick Oakes runs our 50-man protected list and he knows the league inside-out so between him and Chad, I know they can get it done."
Leslie ran his first practice on Tuesday morning, and he says he plans on making a few changes with the special teams, but the club will be sticking with a couple of main systems that Biette implemented.
"It doesn't have to be over-complicated, guys just have to understand it and buy into it," said Leslie, who feels the Bruins biggest problem this year has been inconsistent play.
"We've had nights where we've dominated and had nights where we've come to the rink and been flat," he said. "Going forward we're going to try to be more consistent and we don't have to reinvent the wheel - there are a lot of good systems in place in what Kerry was doing, we just have to be more consistent."
According to Pierson, Leslie will remain the team's head coach until the end of the season, at which point the executive will begin their search for a new bench boss going forward.