Just over three years ago, Drew Bannister was in the early stages of his third season behind the bench of the Ontario Hockey League team he spent four seasons with as a player in the early 1990s.
In September 2017, Bannister was preparing for what eventually became one of the best regular seasons in Soo Greyhounds, a season in which the team advanced to the OHL final for the first time in 25 years.
Prior to the 2017-18 season, Bannister spoke of how he had grown in his previous two seasons behind the bench with the hockey club.
“You grow and adapt every year,” Bannister said at the time. “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.”
Bannister had been hired by the organization in the summer of 2015 after Sheldon Keefe was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs to coach their American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
He would eventually lead the team to a 136-50-13-5 record in three seasons, which included a pair of West Division titles.
In that final season with the team, the Greyhounds eventually set franchise marks for wins (55) and points (116).
It was June 2018 when Bannister was hired by the St. Louis Blues to coach their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
Bannister said at the time that the Blues were a team “that I was intrigued with.”
“The discussions I had with them remind me a lot of the move that I made from Owen Sound to Sault Ste. Marie,” he added.
Bannister joined the Greyhounds after working as an assisted coach in Owen Sound with the Attack.
Following what was eventually his final season with the Greyhounds in 2018-19, Bannister was named the Canadian Hockey League coach of the year and, when presented with the honour, spoke again of how much he learned as a coach in his time with the Greyhounds.
“You’re always having to adapt to different circumstances and different individuals within your team,” Bannister said. “The communication factor, I’ve been building on that over my three years and understanding the body language of the players. Every year you’re learning something new about yourself in a positive way and a negative way.”
Bannister has plenty of fond memories of that final season behind the Greyhounds bench, among them a 23-game winning streak.
In reflecting on the streak, Bannister said “the way we were able to win under difficult circumstances during the streak” was something that stood out.
“Having some pretty important players out of our lineup and seeing some of our younger players step up and take a different role,” Bannister added. “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.”
When he was hired by the Blues, Bannister was stepping into a new situation for the team as well as it had spent the previous season (2017-18) without a full-time affiliate team.
The Blues and Rampage entered into a five-year affiliation agreement in the summer of 2018 and Bannister was brought in to lead the group.
After two seasons in San Antonio, Bannister will be with a new AHL club when the 2020-21 season opens up.
In February, the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights announced the purchase of the Rampage and eventually announced it was moving the AHL club to a Las Vegas suburb and rebranding.
Roughly a month after the Golden Knights purchased the Rampage franchise, the Blues announced a partnership with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
With the new affiliate, Bannister is set to remain a part of the Blues organization when the 2020-21 AHL season begins after the team announced that the former Greyhounds bench boss will remain in his role as coach of the Blues AHL affiliate.