By Ryan McCracken on June 18, 2019.
Shaun Clouston was busy preparing for another season when the decision came down — the Medicine Hat Tigers were moving on without him.
Hours after Monday’s announcement that Clouston had been hired as head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, the longtime Tabby bench boss and general manager opened up about the circumstances surrounding his departure — insisting it was not a mutual decision despite the team’s claim.
“It was zero mutual,” said Clouston. “The original statement wasn’t that and I think somewhere in the middle, just on a live question or interview, those words got spoken. I was set and ready to go for next year, we were just finishing up our camp there. It was a surprise.”
The Tigers have since clarified their position. Team media services manager Adam Jones — who said in a press conference on the day of the staffing change that the decision was mutual — stated Monday that “the Medicine Hat Tigers chose to part ways with Shaun Clouston to go a different direction.”
Despite being let go in favour of Willie Desjardins, Clouston says he still left on positive terms after 16 seasons with the club, nine as head coach and seven with dual duties as general manager.
“Absolutely. I think those scenarios are challenging, and for me, I have a choice kind of in the middle of that, and the choice is to look forward,” said Clouston, who reached the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons as head coach of the Tigers. “For me it was just to look forward and be grateful for the opportunity I had here. It was an unbelievable opportunity and I spent a lot of years here. My kids grew up here. Medicine Hat has been home for 16 years. So that part is challenging.”
Clouston received an outpouring of support in the hours that followed his departure from the Tigers, and says that encouragement from colleagues, friends and former players helped give him the drive to jump back behind the bench with the Blazers.
“It gave me some confidence to keep moving forward. And then the next step was just be open and believe that things happen for a reason,” he said. “I’m very excited about a new adventure. I’m very excited about the city I’m going to, the organization.
“But I’m also very grateful for my time here. It’s a part of the game. I had an incredibly long run, lots of great memories and I think the No. 1 thing I’ll take with me is just the time with the players, and way too many players to mention. To see players improve and see them sign contracts and see them use their education agreements and move on and up and do great things, those are the best memories I’ll take with me.”
Clouston boasts a number of connections to Kamloops, some of which even helped get his foot in the door with the Blazers, who parted ways with head coach Serge Lajoie in April. Clouston’s son and former Tiger Connor Clouston spent parts of three seasons with the Blazers, while Clouston himself competed in a fierce rivalry against Kamloops as a forward with the Portland Winterhawks in the late ‘80s.
After hanging up his skates, Clouston went on to coach his first WHL season with the Winterhawks as an assistant in 2001-02 — where he met then-scout and current Blazers general manager Matt Bardsley.
“We’ve known each other since that time, it’s been 18-19 years. Lots of connections that I think helped pave the way,” said Clouston, adding Ryan Chyzowski’s father, Dave, also works for the Blazers as director of sales and marketing.
The new appointment in Kamloops also means Clouston and Desjardins will meet on opposite benches next season for the first time since 2002-03 — when Clouston spent the year as head coach of the Tri-City Americans and Desjardins was just staring out in Medicine Hat — though Clouston says new scheduling changes will limit the clubs to one matchup per year.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” Clouston said of facing Desjardins. “They’ve really limited the games so only one time per season does the B.C. Division play the Central Division. So next year Medicine Hat will come to Kamloops and then the year after Kamloops will come to Medicine Hat, so that’s not a real big thing in my mind.”
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