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WSHL’s Avalanche stay in-house, tab O’Rourke new bench boss

 

Tommy Campbell

The Ontario Avalanche didn’t have to look far to find their next head coach.

Rob O’Rourke, who has spent the last three seasons as the head coach of the 18U AAA Avalanche, will make the jump to the junior ranks for the 2016-17 season. O’Rourke inherits a team that finished fourth in the Western Division of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) last year with a 28-23-0-1 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

“When I found out that the position was open, I was definitely interested,” said O’Rourke. “I was looking for stability and so was (Avalanche owner) Tom (Meyer). I think my track record with the 18U team is pretty good. I think they were happy with what I accomplished at the Midget level.”

In his three years coaching the 18U Avalanche, O’Rourke led the club to both a state and district championship and a trip to the national championships in 2014-15.

“Obviously going from minor hockey – which is all I’ve ever coached – to juniors is a different animal,” said O’Rourke. “I understand I have a lot to learn, especially on the recruiting front. Recruiting can be a feeding frenzy – there’s so many teams looking at these kids – but at the end of the day, you’re putting your program up against everybody else’s. You have to have a good product that you feel good about, and I believe in the program that we have here.”

With the season opener around four months away, the roster is obviously far from a finished product, but O’Rourke has already confirmed some returning players for the upcoming campaign.

Defenseman Simon Anderberg will be back in the fold along with last year’s Most Improved Player in Tommy Campbell (pictured) and Sebastian Gruhler.

“We’ll have a clearer picture of what we’ve got returning by the end of July or so,” said O’Rourke. “The advantage I have is that I have a guy in (general manager and director of player personnel) Rick Roberts that spends a ton of time not only recruiting these kids, but also getting them off to college. We have a great track record here and I hope to continue to improve that.”

So what can the WSHL expect from an O’Rourke-coached team?

“I plan on coaching similar to what I did in Midget, which means this will be an extremely hard-working team,” said O’Rourke. “The good news is that now I have four days a week for two hours a day to work on all the things I want to work on and implement the system that I want. I never had that coaching Midget.

“These guys are going to be battling for playing time and if they want the ice time, they’re going to have to earn it.”

Once the puck drops, O’Rourke won’t have the luxury of easing into the schedule with a few easy wins. The Western Division was the most talented in the WSHL last season, and despite finishing five games over .500, the Avalanche still finished a distant fourth behind Fresno, a 45-win Valencia team, and the eventual division champs from Long Beach, who have the potential to return 18 players from last year’s team.

But don’t expect for a second that an O’Rourke-coached team will bow down to anyone.

“I’ll get the best players I can get and go coach, but at the end of the day, I’m competitive and I want to beat everyone, especially teams like Fresno, Valencia and Long Beach,” O’Rourke said. “I’m as competitive a person as you’ll meet, so I’m definitely thinking about playing those teams. My goal already is nothing short of winning this division and doing some damage in the playoffs beyond that. I’m not coming into bare cupboards or anything. I have confidence in the guys that we’ll have on the ice, and I have confidence in my coaching ability.

“I want to win the whole thing.”

Photo/Mark Mauno

– John B. Spigott