The Barrie Colts fired interim head coach Warren Rychel on Monday afternoon.
The former owner and general manger of the Windsor Spitfires stepped in behind the bench just before the start of this season after longtime head coach Dale Hawerchuk had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in August and had to take a leave of absence.
Assistant coach Todd Miller will take over behind the bench on an interim basis.
“It’s the first coach we’ve kind of had to part ways with,” Colts owner and president Howie Campbell said. “Everybody else that has been here has kind of left on their own, so it’s never easy. Never easy.”
Rychel stepped into a tough situation after the sudden announcement that Hawerchuk was sick and would have to leave the team, taking over an unfamiliar roster to him just weeks before the start of the season.
The Colts bolted out of the gate, boasting a 13-6 record and battling the Sudbury Wolves for top spot in the Central Division before a rash of injuries decimated the club. They had six regular forwards out of the lineup for a lengthy period, including NHL prospects Ryan Suzuki (eye) and Matej Pekar, who missed more than three weeks after leaving to play at the world junior championships with the Czech Republic.
In a game in Mississauga just before the Christmas break, the Colts had just three players on the bench by the time the second period had rolled around.
The Colts decided to be a seller at the OHL trade deadline in early January, moving captain Jason Willms, top blue liner Tyler Tucker, Suzuki and Pekar in a handful of deals. With Barrie (16-21-2-2) falling to eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings and on a current six-game skid, Campbell decided a change behind the bench was needed.
“We were thankful he was able to join us and unfortunately it just didn’t work out,” he said of Rychel.
Miller will now take on a bigger role with the club, but he admits Monday was a rough day at the rink.
“It’s been tough on two ends of it, obviously Warren is a great guy and then one of my best friends in the world, Dale Hawerchuk, being out it’s not the greatest situation to be doing this,” he said. “At the same time, I’m kind of wanting this for Dale and for the city to get into the playoffs. I want to have a team that people can be excited about every game they come to the rink and they go, ‘Wow, these guys are working so hard and just pushing every night.’
“These kids are going to make mistakes, but sometimes hard work covers up mistakes. That’s what’s going to be kind of the motto going forward. That work ethic can cover up a lot.”
Campbell is confident Miller will do a good job over the remaining nine weeks of the season.
“He’s been with Dale for 10 years and we’re going to give him a chance to finish up,” Campbell said. ” We’re fighting like hell for a playoff spot and that’s our goal. If we figure we can get into the playoffs, we can do some damage.”
For Miller, the biggest thing is making sure his young club is accountable for what happens on the ice. He knows the players and the league well, so he’s confident the transition to the bench boss should be a smooth one.
” Every game is a dog fight for us until the end of the season,” he said. “They got to be accountable, they got to stop taking penalties. It’s pretty rough because we’ve had three lines most of the last two months, so our guys do get tired between second and third periods and that’s when those penalties are being taken. If we can clean that up. . . we’re going to hold everybody accountable to making sure we’re not taking bad penalties.”
“It’s a teaching thing now, you got a lot of young kids,” Miller added. “We’re still in a playoff position and we’re in a dog fight. The defensive zone is going to be No. 1, foremost. Offensively I think we’ll be fine, it’s just taking care of our own end and managing our shifts.”
With a talented young core up front including Tyson Foerster, Evan Vierling, Ethan Cardwell and a wealth of upcoming draft picks acquired at the deadline, the Colts believe they are on the right track to building a true contender.
“The future is really bright, we’ve never been this deep with this much talent and this many picks since I’ve been here for 15 years,” Campbell said. “The cupboard is full of picks and with the quality of kids we have now, we just got to get them going and get them trained, and hopefully next year we can be a hell of a club and the year after that could be really, really special. We’re really excited about the future.”
Campbell says the focus remains on bring a national championship to Barrie.
“”I committed to winning this thing,” he said. “I’m trying to do everything we can to make sure we win this thing, that’s the goal. Win this Memorial Cup and bring it home. It hasn’t been here since 1953.”
The Colts return to action Thursday night when they host the Oshawa Generals. Game time at Sadlon Arena is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: The Colts plan on calling forward Vladislav Dvurechenski back up from the Collingwood Colts this week.