Clark a pro till the end
“No one knows more than me that this is a results-based business. I’ve been here 3 1/2 years and there haven’t been results and I am fully aware of that.” (Dean Clark, Dec. 12, 2012)
When one achieves twice as many losses as victories (83-163-5-11 record), and he is in the fourth year of a five-year deal, there is no surprise when a pro or major junior hockey coach loses his job.
Dean Clark was very professional and classy with his exit from the Prince George Cougars. He didn’t try to deflect his record, offered no excuses and was prompt in getting back to me on Tuesday, the day he was dismissed.
“It’s never an easy thing to hear, for sure, but that’s part of the game. The team hasn’t done what it should do and when that happens, something has to happen and that was me. No one likes to get fired. I take a lot of pride in what I do and what I’ve done,” said Clark, who is ranked in the top 10 in WHL wins as a coach, success he earned with Calgary, Brandon and Kamloops.
At the time of his departure, the Cougars had the second worst record in the WHL (14-26-2-4) and with just 26 games to go and a playoff spot slipping away, GM Dallas Thompson decided to pull the trigger after the team lost 10 of 12.
Clark lacked talent to work with in his P.G. tenure, however, the specialty teams should have been better. The Cats are ranked last in powerplay and 18th in penalty-killing.
“If you look at those stats, we’ve been at the bottom or near the bottom for quite some time this year and in the past and certainly those are factors to where we are here right now and certainly that played a role in it,” said Thompson.
While there is no defending Clark’s record, there are also no excuses for Thompson’s achievements. Since taking over as GM, the team has missed the playoffs in three of the last five years and four of eight. Not including OTL’s and SOL’s, the Cougars are 127 games below .500 over the past 5 1/2 years. Thompson is well aware of that and will continue to be under the microscope for his accountability.
Throughout the years hockey has changed immensely, but even with new rules, more technology and mass social media coverage there are still some old-fashioned things that can recapture a blast from the past.
I am making reference to a venue full to seating capacity, something that has been rare in Prince George in recent years, but still remains the ultimate environment to not only watch a game, but to participate.
On January 18, the Spruce Kings filled the barn with a SRO crowd of 2,034 in the first game of a home double-header against Chilliwack, a 4-2 Chiefs victory.
It’s been well documented that attendance has slipped dramatically in recent years for the BCHL games at the Coliseum and WHL action at CN Centre.
The Spruce Kings are gradually re-building their fan base, something that the Cougars are still striving for. Sure, the Kings have a competitive team that improves their situation, but there have been organizational changes, a focus on promotion, plus a huge contribution from major sponsors that have played a significant role to winning back the customers.
The environment to watch a game is part of the experience in attending a game. In a building half or less of capacity, the energy, enthusiasm and euphoria is drained. In other words, lack of atmosphere can certainly translate to apathy.
A facility, like the Coliseum, where the fans are an earshot away from the players, adds to the culture of the game if every seat is taken.
The product on the ice remains paramount to the fortunes of any team but do not underestimate the social aspect as a major component to a Friday night outing. Prior to faceoff or in between periods, fans have an opportunity to catch up with familiar faces and acquaintances. It may be the only time one gets that chance, however, if hardly anybody is in the building, that point becomes moot.
The Spruce Kings are averaging 1,144 fans, slightly above the league average. That may not seem like much, but in the 2010-11 season, the team’s average was a paltry 696.
Not every game is going to be filled to capacity but on the occasions that it does, there’s a feeling of nostalgia.
Today’s era is filled with texts and tweets but nothing can replace putting the gadgets away, going to the concession stand, analyzing the game with the person seated next to you, all in the comforts of a building that is rocking. Ideally, the glass is not half full or half empty, but overflowing with sparkle.
Hartley Miller is the sports director for radio stations 94X and the Wolf@97fm. Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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