The Hamilton Red Wings are hoping one of their previous head coaches can help return the franchise to respectability.
John McDonald, who previously coached the Ontario Junior Hockey League team for three seasons, leaving in 2007, has once again been brought in to serve as the Hamilton bench boss.
McDonald inherits a squad that has nowhere to go but up. Hamilton had a humiliating 2012-13 campaign, winning just five out of its 55 regular season contests.
Just how bad was the Hamilton squad last year?
– the club finished a whopping 28 points behind its nearest conference rival, the Orangeville Flyers.
– during one-fifth of their games (that’s 11 matches for math-challenged fans), the Red Wings allowed 10 goals or more.
– Hamilton allowed an average of 7.16 goals per game while using six different goaltenders.
– the Red Wings registered just one road victory all season and only picked up back-to-back Ws once.
McDonald, who was coaching a minor peewee club in Hamilton last season, attended two of the Red Wings’ contests. And like many other Hamilton supporters, he didn’t like what he saw.
“The state everything was in was a little depressing,” he said.
While he admits some of his friends are questioning why he would bother returning to the franchise, McDonald is confident he can turn things around.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But we’ll meet that challenge head on.”
McDonald is ready to make sweeping changes to the club’s roster. Ten players are eligible to return to the Red Wings’ lineup. But as of late July, McDonald said there was a chance only two players – forward Liam Bird and defenceman Jason OConnor – would be welcome back.
“No spot is safe,” McDonald said. “And it shouldn’t be based on their stats and the team’s record last year.”
There’s no shortage of individuals hoping to don a Red Wings’ jersey for the coming season.
A total of 160 players attended the team’s three-day spring camp in April. Fifty of those individuals earned invites to the club’s August camp, which starts Aug. 12.
McDonald anticipates the majority of the 22 players that end up cracking the Red Wings’ lineup will be newcomers to the league, having played in either the Junior B, Junior C or in the midget ranks last season.
“We’re going to be young,” he said. “I’m not really worried about age. We’ve got a lot of learning to do. And we need to rebuild this team.”
McDonald said he’s not concerned about icing a youthful side, adding during his first season with the Red Wings, 2004-05, the club included a half dozen 16-year-olds. That team ended up winning 31 times in its 49-game regular season. McDonald also led the Red Wings to 33- and 37-win campaigns in his two other seasons.
A pair of familiar faces will be joining McDonald behind the Hamilton bench this season. His assistant coaches will be Dave McNab and Chris Dunsmuir, a pair of Red Wings’ alumni who both played for McDonald during his first coaching stint in the organization.
Besides bringing back some respectability, McDonald has a rather simple goal for his charges.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” he said. Eight of the 12 entrants in the league’s South-West Conference will advance to post-season action.