New head coach Pat Conacher’s character tough to ignore

By Craig Slater, Leader-Post

REGINA — The opportunity to hire Pat Conacher as the next head coach for the Regina Pats was one that general manager Chad Lang just couldn’t ignore.

After nearly one month of deliberations, Lang finally handed the job to a man who relentlessly pursued the gig.

“Through the process, I just kept coming back to him,” Lang said Tuesday afternoon after Conacher was introduced as the team’s head coach. “I was really comfortable in dealing with him. Our conversations and our dialogue were always very positive. He asked really good questions.

“One of the big things that really set him apart from everybody else was that he really wanted our job and he pursued it hard. He wants to be a part of the process. This wasn’t just going to be a quick stop and move on. He wants to see this through.”

Conacher is capable of drawing Xs and Os on a whiteboard and talking hockey with the best of them. What set him apart from the other candidates, according to Lang, was his character. His resume wasn’t bad, either.

The 52-year-old Conacher brings more than 20 years of experience to the Pats. He played for 17 seasons and won a Stanley Cup championship in 1984 with the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. His coaching career includes a Spengler Cup title as an assistant coach with the Canadian national team in 1997-98 before he spent three seasons in the NHL as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Last season, Conacher was the assistant coach and assistant general manager with the Chilliwack Bruins, who relocated to Victoria earlier this summer. He said his time with the Bruins was a positive learning experience and one he hopes to build on in Regina.

“Junior hockey is a different beast than pro (hockey),” he said. “They’re young people, and not only are you trying to get the most out of these guys hockey-wise, but people-wise too. You want them to reach their potential as a player but as a person too.

“It’s more than just putting a gameplan together and going out and playing a hockey game. You have to interact with these kids. They’re young men and they’re still growing. There are a lot of things going on in their life. You have to earn their trust and be inside their lives.”

Conacher described himself as a hard-working player who had to reinvent himself and play all sorts of gritty and less-glamourous roles. He wants this Pats team to be viewed in a similar light.

“First of all, it’s got to be a hard-working team,” Conacher said. “You have to go back to what a hockey is. To me a hockey player is an aggressive individual that goes out to get it. We have to have a team that has the other team on it heels all the time. I want to play an aggressive game, an up-tempo game and I want the opposition to be reacting to what we do.

Conacher fills the role that was left void when the Pats fired Curtis Hunt in mid-June. Last season, the Pats missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year and placed 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 23-39-7-3 record. They’ll return a relatively young roster this season, and Conacher said the team could experience more growing pains before returning to the elite in the WHL.

“We’re not going to kid anybody because there are going to be some tough times,” he said. “But when you do (hit a rough patch), you don’t blow the whole thing up. If you believe in your plan, you stick with it and follow through with it. You may have to tweak it here and there.

“The WHL goes in cycles. We’re going to be young this year and we’re going to bring along those young players and we hope they develop like they should. It’s going to be one, two or maybe three years before we get back to where we want to be.”

Lang is confident Conacher is the man who can lead that turnaround.

“We wanted someone who could teach and develop,” he said. “We’re going to have highs and lows this year, and you still have to be able to motivate these kids and keep them moving in the right direction and not to change what we’re trying to do. I really believe strongly in his values and characteristics that he has that ability to teach and lead and motivate this group.”

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