For Soo Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister, the new Ontario Hockey League season represents an opportunity to continue the learning process as a young head coach in the league.
Coming off his second season behind the bench, Bannister helped lead the Greyhounds to a 48-16-3-1 record and a West Division title last season, his second as head coach.
The 43-year-old has led the Greyhounds 81 wins in two seasons since taking over for Sheldon Keefe in the summer of 2015 after Keefe took a job as head coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
“You grow and adapt every year,” Bannister said. “I’m becoming more patient in my approach in how I’m teaching the kids in practice. As a younger coach, you try to rush through things to get so much done but sometimes you stumble past the more important things.”
“Instead of trying to get a ton of stuff done and skipping over the important things, sometimes you’re not spending enough time on the important things,” Bannister added. “This is an interesting year for me. I’m excited about the year. It’s the first year that I’ll have guys that have only been coached (in the OHL) by me and our staff.”
The former Greyhounds defenceman, who played four seasons with the organization and was part of the Greyhounds 1993 Memorial Cup team, said there is a positive vibe in the organization.
“We have quite a belief in the group,” Bannister said. “Once we start rolling here and get everybody back, we’re going to have a fun year.”
Ahead of the Greyhounds regular season opener on Saturday night against Oshawa, Bannister said there’s an energy amongst the players as the game approaches.
“The guys for the most part seem fairly focused,” Bannister said of the mood heading into Saturday’s opener. “It’s more of a quiet energy around the group.
“The guys are excited to get back to playing regular season hockey,” Bannister added.
With games against the Generals on Saturday and London Knights on Sunday afternoon, Bannister said opening weekend isn’t always easy.
“The opening weekend is always difficult on any team,” Bannister said. “Even last year, we were quite short for the first two games.
“It’s the beginning of the season but they’re important points,” Bannister also said. “You try to manage the expectations but also make sure that, come the end of the weekend, you’re up on the positive side.”
“London is in a very similar situation to us in that they’re going to be without some key players,” Bannister also said.
Bannister said he doesn’t expect defenceman Conor Timmins back in the lineup from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. He was unsure of whether Jack Kopacka would return from the camp of the Anaheim Ducks and he said he there was a chance that goaltender Matthew Villalta could return for Sunday’s game against the Knights.
With Villalta out of the lineup for the opener against Oshawa, Bannister said a decision on who would start the game, overage Connor Hicks or rookie Dougie Newhouse, would come on Saturday.