Showing posts with label head coach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label head coach. Show all posts

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Brian Conacher: Head Coach of the Mohawk Valley Comets

brian conacher toronto maple leafs rookie hockey card
Son of National Hockey League great Lionel Conacher, Brian Conacher played his share of NHL hockey before he became a head coach in the North American Hockey League. Conacher coached the Mohawk Valley Comets for the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, along with 12 games at the start of 1975-76. He wasn’t given much to work with and the Comets were not very successful.

Brian Conacher – Head Coach

In Conacher’s first year as head coach of the Mohawk Valley Comets, the team placed last in the seven team NAHL with 42 points over 74 games. The Comets finished 19 points behind the sixth place Binghamton Dusters and 70 points behind the first place Syracuse Blazers.

1974-75 saw a great improvement in the Comets. The team totalled 25 more points than the previous season with 67 over 74 games. Mohawk Valley finished sixth out of eight teams and got their first taste of the Lockhart Cup post season. However, the Comets fell in the opening round to the Binghamton Dusters, another team much improved over the previous season.

Mohawk Valley’s success in 1974-75 was largely due to the goaltending duo of Michel Dion and Jim Park, both in their first year with the club. Dion went on to play several years in the WHA and NHL while Park played three years in the WHA. Jim won the Terry Sawchuk Trophy in 1979-80 as the goaltender on the team in the Central Hockey League with the least goals against.

Twelve games into the 1975-76 season, Conacher was replaced by Ted McCaskill. During those 12 games, Brian returned to ice for three, scoring two goals and assisting on another. McCaskill played four games in the NHL with the Minnesota North Stars in 1967-68 and was a regular in the World Hockey Association in 1972-73 and 1973-74 with the Los Angeles Sharks. In 1974-75, he played 40 games in the NAHL with the Binghamton Dusters, his final games as a pro hockey player.

The team didn’t fare much better under McCaskill, placing third of five teams in the East Division with 64 points in 74 games. The Comets then fell in the opening round of the playoffs to the Syracuse Blazers.

Brian Conacher – Pro Hockey Player

Brian Conacher played a total of 155 regular season games in the National Hockey League between 1965-66 and 1971-72 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. He also appeared in 12 playoff games, all during the 1966-67 season when the Maple Leafs captured the Stanley Cup championship.

Brian played one last year of pro hockey in 1972-73 before ending up behind the Mohawk Valley bench. He played for the Ottawa Nationals in the inaugural season of the WHA. Over his career, he also played in the AHL and CHL. Conacher played for Canada at the 1964 Winter Olympics and the 1965 World Hockey Championships. He was a Calder Cup champion in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans in 1965-66.

Brian Conacher – Author

In 2007, Conacher published a book titled As the Puck Turns: A Personal Journey Through the World of Hockey. The book chronicled his diverse life in hockey and peeked inside one of the sport’s royal families.



Monday, March 25, 2013

John Brophy: A Great Coaching Career Started in the NAHL

john brophy head coach long island cougars nahl

John Brophy spent just one year in the North American Hockey League and that came a year after his long playing career was over. Brophy was the head coach of the Long Island Cougars for the 1973-74 inaugural NAHL season.

The Cougars finished third overall in the seven team league, 20 points behind the second place Maine Nordiques and 39 behind the first place Syracuse Blazers.

The opening round of the 1973-74 playoffs featured a round robin with the top five finishing teams. Each team played the other four twice. The Cougars came out with 4-3 record, third among the five. Only one team was eliminated from the group and, ironically, it was the Maine Nordiques. Maine went a dreadful 1-7 after such a great regular season.

In the 1973-74 semi-finals, Long Island took out the Cape Cod Cubs in six games to earn a shot at the Syracuse Blazers in the Lockhart Cup finals. It was no contest. Syracuse swept the Cougars and outscored Long Island 27-5 over the four games.

John Brophy’s NAHL career ended with that series but a lengthy and successful coaching career had begun. It is suggested that his NAHL legacy lives on in theatre. Brophy is reported to be the model for the character Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, in the movie Slapshot.

Playing Career

John Brophy played 1,142 regular season games in the Eastern Hockey League from 1952-53 to 1972-73. The tough defenseman accumulated and astronomical 3,825 penalty minutes over that time. That number equates to nearly 64 hours or more than two and a half days.

He was EHL PIM leader in the following years:

·         1959-60. 190 PIM with the Charlotte Clippers.

·         1960-61. 290 PIM with the New Haven Blades.

·         1961-62. 281 PIM with the Long Island Ducks.

·         1964-65. 241 PIM with the Long Island Ducks.

Over his EHL career he played for the Troy Uncle Sam Trojans, Baltimore Clippers, Charlotte Rebels, Charlotte Clippers, New Haven Blades, Long Island Ducks, Philadelphia Ramblers and Jersey Devils. He was on one championship team during that time and two other teams that were finalists.

The 1956-57 Charlotte Clippers were first overall with a whopping 30 point lead over the second place Philadelphia Ramblers. In the semi-finals, the Clippers beat the New Haven Blades 4-2 in the semi-finals before facing the Ramblers in the finals. Philadelphia did all they could but fell to Charlotte in seven games.

The Clippers toned it down a bit the following season but still found success. The team finished first overall but just one point ahead of the Washington Presidents. Charlotte once again met New Haven in the semis with the Blades pushing the Clippers to the limit before succumbing. Charlotte then met the Presidents in the final series and fell to Washington in another series that went the limit.

In 1960-61, Brophy was with the New Haven Blades. The team finished first in the Northern Division and third overall. In the first round of the playoffs, New Haven beat the Greensboro Generals 5-4 in an unorthodox nine game series. The Blades earned a bye through the second round and landed directly in the finals against the Johnstown Jets. Johnstown took out the Blades 4-2.

Coaching Career

Brophy found himself behind one hockey bench or another from 1973-74 to 2006-07 and even found himself as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1986-87 to 1988-89.

John coached his first major league hockey in 1978-79 as head of the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association. The ‘Baby Bulls’ had an outstanding lineup of teenagers playing their first professional hockey. Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Craig Hartsburg, Rob Ramage, Gaston Gingras and Pat Riggin mixed with former NHL veterans like Paul Henderson and Ernie Wakely. If the WHA had survived past the 1978-79 season, this team had the makings of a powerhouse.

Birmingham finished the regular season sixth in the seven team league and did not qualify for the post season. The seventh team was the Indianapolis Racers, a team that folded after 25 games. Still, Brophy was the final recipient of the Robert Schmertz Memorial Trophy as the WHA’s coach of the year.

His true claim to fame, however, came after the WHA and after his tumultuous times in Toronto under Harold Ballard. John Brophy is an ECHL coaching legend. In the league that began play in 1988-89, no other head coach has won three Kelly Cup championships. All John’s post season success came behind the bench of the Hampton Roads Admirals.

In 1990-91, the Admirals took out the Greensboro Monarchs in five games to win the Kelly Cup. The following year, they swept the Louisville IceHawks for the repeat. In 1997-98, Brophy completed his triple as the Admirals shot down the Pensacola Ice Pilots in six games.

In 2003, the ECHL changed the name of the trophy for coach of the year to the John Brophy Memorial Award. Ironically, Brophy was never name ECHL coach of the year despite all his success. In 2009, he was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame.