The style Soo Greyhounds fans have grown accustomed to over the past six seasons will not change as a new man takes over behind the bench.
On Thursday, the team announced that John Dean has been hired by the organization as its new head coach.
Calling it “an exciting brand of hockey,” Dean feels the Greyhounds puck-possession style won’t change much under a new coaching staff.
“I don’t think you’ll see a huge difference in style of play,” Dean said. “We want to possess the puck. The more we have it, the better we are. I don’t think you’ll see any huge tweaks or changes. Maybe a little bit of my own spin on things but you’ll definitely see a similar brand of hockey.”
Dean replaces Drew Bannister, who left the team to take the head coaching position with the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage in early June.
Dean called the opportunity to join the Greyhounds a “good fit.”
“It’s good to surround yourself with good people and Kyle and I got along really well,” Dean said. “The X’s and O’s will take care of themselves. A lot of times it’s about the people around you and I think this is a good fit.”
Greyhounds General Manager Kyle Raftis credited Dean’s “passion for the game” as something that stood out during the interview process.
“Just in talking to John, you get a real sense of his passion for the game right away,” Raftis said. “He has a reputation of living at the arena and working with these athletes. The more you dig in about him, that articulation, the plan, the passion for teaching and not just (teaching) the game really stood out.”
The job is Dean’s first as a head coach at the Ontario Hockey League level. The 37-year-old spent the 2017-18 season as the head coach of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Toronto Patriots, where he also served as assistant general manager. Dean was named the OJHL’s coach of the year after posting a 40-8-3-3 record.
Before joining the Patriots, Dean spent three seasons behind the bench of the North Bay Battalion as an assistant coach. Dean said he learned a lot from Battalion Coach Stan Butler.
“Stan is probably the most organized guy I’ve met and that’s something I’ll take with me,” Dean said. “His ability to not take the losses so hard, that’s not to say they don’t mean something to him but he understands the process of the game. Those losses can be learning opportunities.”
Despite playing a very different style in North Bay, Dean said there are parts of Butler’s style that can work in the Greyhounds system, though it won’t be an overhaul of the style currently employed by the Greyhounds.
“Some of his philosophies away from the puck are things we can implement,” Dean said. “I’m very much a guy who likes (his team) to play with the puck and our response when we lose the puck is something that’s going to be talked about quite a bit. Some of Stan’s twists and turns might be involved in that.”
Dean would also say his familiarity with the league from his time in North Bay will be of help during his first tenure as a head coach in the league.
“At the OJHL level, you will have a player or two there that’s just there because they still enjoy playing but don’t quite have the same ambition,” Dean said. “(In the OHL) you have 23 or 24 like-minded individuals who are pretty ambitious about where they’re going. You have to manage those personalities obviously. That’s probably the major difference.”
Exactly what are the expectations for the new season for the new bench boss?
“I’m really hesitant to set expectations at this point,” Dean said. “I’ve watched a lot of film already and I really like the core that’s coming back. The Sault has done a great job of developing young guys. When you play on a good hockey team, you can’t help but get better playing against guys like (Morgan) Frost and (Taylor) Raddysh.”
Dean expressed excitement about the team and feels that the team will be very strong down the middle with the potential returns of Frost, Barrett Hayton and Joe Carroll.
“Anytime you can have strength through the middle, it’s a pretty exciting position to have filled already,” Dean said.
As for assistant coaches, Raftis said the team expects to have the positions filled in the fairly soon. Former Associate Coach Joe Cirella moved on to pro hockey as an assistant with the Stockton Heat of the AHL while Ryan Ward, who served as an assistant coach with the Greyhounds, will take on a similar role with Bannister in San Antonio.