It was three years ago that the Soo Greyhounds began the search for a new head coach when Sheldon Keefe accepted a job with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
Nearly three years to the day, the man who replaced him with in the Greyhounds is also moving on.
On Tuesday morning, the St. Louis Blues announced the hiring of Drew Bannister as head coach of their American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
Bannister would say that the decision wasn’t an easy one to leave Sault Ste. Marie.
“I love the organization and the people that I worked with here and what they’ve done for me,” Bannister said. “For me to move, it would have to have been the perfect fit.”
Bannister said the move to join the Blues reminds him of when he made the move to join the Greyhounds three summers ago when he took over a young team.
“In my discussions with teams, St. Louis was a team that I was intrigued with,” Bannister said. The discussions I had with them remind me a lot of the move that I made from Owen Sound to Sault Ste. Marie.”
“It’s a fresh start for (St. Louis) and a fresh start for me,” Bannister added.
It’s a fresh start for the Rampage, who begin a five-year affiliation agreement with the Blues this season. The Blues were the lone NHL team without an AHL affiliate this season after the NHL expansion brought in the Vegas Golden Knights this season.
The Blues prospects were spread among other AHL teams this season.
As he prepares for the “next phase” in his coaching career, Bannister was appreciative of the opportunity afforded him by the Greyhounds.
“I am very excited about the opportunity that begins here today, but this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of I received from the players over the past three seasons, the staff within the Greyhounds organization, Joe (Cirella), Ryan (Ward), Kyle (Raftis), the late Dr. Lukenda, Tim (Lukenda) and the rest of the Board of Directors for their assistance and opportunity,” Bannister said in a prepared statement.
“The Soo Greyhounds are a great organization, and along with the media and fans, make this such a great place to play and coach junior hockey,” Bannister added. “I will be forever grateful for my time in Sault Ste. Marie.”
Hired by the Greyhounds in the summer of 2015 after time as an assistant coach with the Owen Sound Attack, Bannister reflected on his time in Sault Ste. Marie during the recent Memorial Cup.
“For me over the last three years, I’ve been extremely lucky to be a part of (the Greyhounds) and the opportunity that they’ve given me to grow as a coach,” Bannister said recently.
After earning the Canadian Hockey League coach of the year honours at the recently completed MasterCard Memorial Cup in Regina, Bannister talked about how much he learned in three years with the Greyhounds as head coach.
“As a coach, you’re always having to adapt to different circumstances within your team and different individuals,” Bannister said. “The communication factor, I’ve been building on that over my three years and understanding the body language of our players.”
“Every year you’re learning something new about yourself in a positive way and a negative way,” Bannister added. “You’re trying to positively impact each individual player.”
In a prepared statement, Blues President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Doug Armstrong said, “we are very excited to have Drew join our organization.”
“He has proven himself over the past few seasons in the OHL and will be a perfect fit as we continue to develop our prospects through our affiliation with San Antonio.”
Bannister is coming off a record-setting season with the Greyhounds that saw the team set franchise marks for wins (55) and points (116).
In three seasons with the organization, Bannister led the Greyhounds to a 136-50-13-5 record, two West Division titles.
His final season with the team was a year full of memories.
“We did a lot of amazing things,” Bannister said. “There were a lot of individual accomplishments by our players, the unbeaten streak we had and the season overall that we had. When you look back at that, you look at the work that each individual kid put in.”
Bannister called the Greyhounds 23-game winning streak and the way the team found ways to win games as one of the most memorable things from this season.
“The way we were able to win under difficult circumstances during the streak,” Bannister said. “Having some pretty important players out of our lineup and seeing some of our younger players step up and take a different role. When you look back at it, a lot of people overlook the target that was on our back on a daily basis and how difficult it is to come to the rink and compete and not let yourself become complacent with where you are. For teenagers, that’s really easy for them to do. Our group was a special group. They pushed themselves and held themselves accountable. They understood what they were going into on a nightly basis.”
Greyhounds General Manager Kyle Raftis said Friday the team has begun a search for a new coach.
Once the announcement was made that Bannister was joining the Rampage, Raftis said interest in the vacant position with the Greyhounds grew and experience of the candidates varied.
Raftis said the Greyhounds have no intention of rushing through the process to name Bannisters replacement.