By Ryan McCracken on May 31, 2019.
Ask any Medicine Hat Tigers fan about the golden age, and they’ll speak glowingly about former bench boss Willie Desjardins.
Well, the golden age is back.
The Tigers announced Friday morning that Desjardins is returning to the team to serve as head coach and general manager effective immediately — making the announcement less than 24 hours after parting ways with Shaun Clouston and marking Desjardins’ return to the Gas City nearly nine years after he stepped away to pursue coaching at a higher level.
“It’s not just coming back to the Tigers, it’s coming back to Medicine Hat,” said Desjardins, adding the experience is reminiscent of when he first signed on to coach the Tigers in 2002. “I remember I was so excited, it was the only time I ever ran out of gas. I was going through Brooks and I was just thinking about the team and what I wanted to do, and I was stuck on the highway for a while. It’s that way again. I’m really excited about the opportunity to come in. I’ve always stayed in touch with the Masers, I’ve always followed the Tigers, that’s never changed.”
Desjardins recorded a 323-176-60 record through eight seasons in his first stint with the Tigers — coaching the team to WHL championships in 2004 and 2007 — before moving into an assistant coaching role with the Dallas Stars in 2010. The Climax, Sask. product then took the reins of Dallas’ AHL affiliate Texas Stars in 2012 and led them all the way to a Calder Cup title in his second year behind the bench.
The following season Desjardins was named head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, where he spent the next three years coaching a variety of Tigers alumni including Derek Dorsett and Linden Vey. Desjardins was relieved of his position with the Canucks in 2017, but was named head coach of Team Canada for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games — where he clinched bronze on the world stage.
A few months after returning to Canada, Desjardins helped start the South Alberta Hockey Academy with the Prairie Rose School Division, stepping up to lead the organization.
But Desjardins’ coaching story took another turn in early November when the Los Angeles Kings fired then-coach John Stevens and called upon him to fill an interim role with the big-league squad for the remainder of the season.
The Kings announced at the end of the season that Desjardins would not be returning to coach the team in the fall, prompting his return to Southeastern Alberta and ultimately leading to his restored role with the Tigers.
Tigers captain James Hamblin says he’s excited to get things going under his new coach, especially given the man’s track record both in the Gas City and on the NHL stage.
“He has a ton of history in Medicine Hat, I know the people of Medicine Hat love him and of course he’s done an amazing job with the Tigers in the past, and he has some NHL experience,” said Hamblin. “It’s definitely going to be a little bit of a change but I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited to get going with him.”
Clouston spent seven seasons as assistant and associate coach under Desjardins from 2003 to 2010 and went on to employ a similar set of systems when he took over as head coach for his nine-season tenure. Given that fact, Hamblin says he’s hoping for a fairly smooth transition when they return to the ice in the fall.
“It’ll make the transition a little bit easier,” said Hamblin. “Shaun did coach under him for a while so I’m sure a lot of the drills and technique stuff will be a lot of the same. I’m just excited to see what he has and get rolling.”
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