Shaun Clouston spent about 15 minutes outlining why it hurt to be fired by Darrell and Brent Maser, dumped unceremoniously on May 30 after 16 years of service.
Never once did he express ill will toward the brothers who own the Medicine Tigers or the club legend, Willie Desjardins, who replaced him on May 31 as head coach and general manager.
Shaun, is it true there are no hard feelings? Absolutely true, he said.
It does pain me to lose the readymade storyline — bloodthirsty Clouston out for vengeance when former mentor Desjardins, Tigers visit Kamloops Blazers — ahead of this Saturday’s clash at Sandman Centre, but I tend to believe him.
Make no mistake — this is not just another regular season game.
Clouston and Willie D will want this one a little more. Players know that. Fans know that. Owners know that.
But there is no behind-the-scenes hatred involved.
“It was just surprising,” said Clouston, who was an assistant or associate coach under Desjardins for seven seasons in Medicine Hat. “That’s all. It didn’t end dramatically. I was just relieved of my duties and the next morning it was announced that Willie was back.
“The way I looked at it is Darrell and Brent Maser, it’s their team and it’s their prerogative to do what they feel they need to do.”
Desjardins, who led the Tigers to two WHL titles, became available after a brief tenure last season as interim head coach of the LA Kings. He is beloved in Medicine Hat. Clouston was the odd man out.
The nature of the ending does, contrary to what Clouston said, seem a tad dramatic, but it didn’t take long for the spurned bench boss to realize how great of a run he had, the comforting recognition that 16 seasons is a lifetime in hockey years.
Perhaps what hurt most — pain absorbed in the gut punch he talked about after being hired by the Blazers in June — was losing the Tigers he reared, a group of young men that has championship aspirations.
That torment became evident when Clouston began detailing how the roster was built, from accumulating draft picks to selecting an import goaltender to the maturation of homegrown 19- and 20-year-old players, rattling off names as if he was seeing faces and listing transactions as if they occured yesterday.
“That part, it was just surprising because I felt things were going very well, that the team, it had been a few years since we’d been to a conference final, we hadn’t won a conference or league championship, but had been very competitive year after year, and there was a conscious effort to look at this year and to sort of build toward this year,” Clouston said.
“You can’t guarantee success, but there was a thought and commitment to this age group. I sincerely believed this was going to be a very good year.”
He fell short of winning a WHL championship and some naysayers in Medicine Hat will judge him on that, not his status as the winningest head coach in club history.
That can be tough on pride. And I think Clouston wrestles with that. And perhaps he's thought about how it would make the Masers feel if he won it all this season in Kamloops.
But he is not obsessed by desire for revenge, which he said can be blinding and effect his ability to coach well.
The game has offered him a wonderful opportunity, one which materialized quickly and perhaps only because Kyle Gustafson, the Blazers’ original No. 1 candidate, decided to stay in Portland.
“Hockey is weird and there are all types of twists and turns in a career,” Clouston said. “What I’ve learned is to appreciate the opportunities.”
He loves it here. He raves about Sandman Centre and its downtown location. He couldn’t have known just how much potential the Blazers have when he arrived on Mark Recchi Way.
All of those things probably make it a little bit easier to let go.
The Saturday game, a 7 p.m. start on Military Appreciation Night, has potential to be a marquee WHL regular-season matchup, but don’t expect Clouston to rappel down from the rafters with the Rocky Mountain Rangers to subdue Willie D.
It’s just not like that.
“There is going to be attention because of the obvious connections and both sides would maybe like to win that game slightly more than other games,” Clouston said.
“I’d rather be the winner, but if it’s not our night, so be it.”