Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ new head coach Kevin Willison has never been to Port Alberni but he can’t wait to get out and fish for some salmon.
Senior Bulldog’s staff introduced Willison at a press conference at the AV Multiplex on Wednesday afternoon, one day after former head coach Paul Esdale was fired.
Willison, a former St. Louis Blues National Hockey League draft pick, says he wants players to work hard and have fun but he’s firm that there are obligations that go with that.
“I expect players to work hard, show respect on and off the ice, and be responsible,” Willison said. “But work ethic is a big key.”
Willison takes the reigns from Esdale, who was relieved as head coach Dec. 6. Assistant coach Adam Hayduk and trainer Dave Campbell will remain with the team.
The former hard-nosed defenseman understands that players might be shaky after a below-par November, and that “…we’re going to have to pump up some tires, Willison said.
But players are going to have to eventually get off his knee. “The last thing I’m going to do is give them a hug; once you’re on the ice you’re on your own.”
Willison expects hard work, he said, but he won’t know what systems he’ll implement until he gets a handle on what personnel he’s dealing with.
Willison isn’t completely unfamiliar with Bulldogs players. Defenseman Brandon Halls played for him previously in Calgary. Other players not familiar with him got up to speed before today. “I’m sure there was a lot of Google-ing going on,” Ron Paulson quipped.
Willison comes from the Olds Grizzlys of the Alberta Junior Hockey League where he spent one season as head coach. He resigned from his position on Nov. 29 after the team went 0-7-1-2 in November.
Willison guided the Grizzlys to a 23-30-0-7 record last season, which was good for fifth in the south division with 53 points. But they were swept by the Calgary Mustangs in the first round of the playoffs.
A hard hitting physical style is ingrained into the DNA of players in the AJHL but Willison expects something different here. “It looks like a more wide open, run and gun style here.”
In an interview with PEAK FM sports man Evan Hammond, Bulldogs president Andy Oakes said Esdale was let go because management didn’t get the results it wanted over an 80-game span.
“We felt that was enough time to see if the team would respond,” Oakes said.
The team bogged down in the last month, and currently occupy the basement of the B.C. Hockey League’s Coastal Conference. That precipitated pulling the pin.
“Every point is important now so we decided to make the change,” Oakes said.
Management feels the Bulldogs are a playoff-calibre team who are underachieving right now, something they feel Willison can change.
“He’s consistently produced hard working, fast, physical and disciplined players,” Oakes said. “He’s known for his work ethic, fairness, being demanding and holding players accountable.”
Willison has had a hand in developing the Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall, as well as Red Deer Rebel standout Matt Dumba.