Serge Lajoie is no longer head coach of the Kamloops Blazers.
The WHL club issued a press release that said the Blazers and Lajoie have mutually parted ways.
“I’m very comfortable with it,” Lajoie told KTW in a phone interview. “Both the Blazers and myself, totally on the same page. It was an evaluation that I made at the end of the year.
“When you sit down with your family and you think, ‘Is this really worth it?’ It would not have been fair to the Kamloops Blazers.”
Lajoie was asked if he was fired.
“I know people are going to speculate, but at the end of the day, there’s a good understanding. We’re parting amicably,” Lajoie said. “There’s always that bittersweet. I’m definitely disappointed. I had an absolute blast with the players. They challenged me. They helped me grow.
“Yeah, I really would have liked to have seen this through, but then you say, ‘OK, on the flip side, can I really dedicate all the time and effort that is necessary?’”
The Bonnyville, Alta., product was hired prior to the 2018-2019 season to replace Don Hay, who did not escape sweeping changes made by majority owner Tom Gaglardi following the 2017-2018 campaign.
Lajoie, the former head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears, led the Blazers to a 28-32-6-2 record, which left them tied for third in the B.C. Division with the Kelowna Rockets.
Kamloops, which picked up 11 of 12 points in the final six games of the regular season, knocked off Kelowna 5-1 in a rare post-season play-in game at Sandman Centre to reach the playoffs.
The Victoria Royals jettisoned Kamloops 4-2 in a best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series.
Following the Game 6 defeat on home ice, Lajoie told media he wanted to continue coaching in Kamloops.
Time to reflect changed his mind, Lajoie said, noting again how challenging it was to be away from his Alberta-based family — wife Kelly, son Marc, a Tri-City Americans’ defenceman who will turn 16 on May 3, and 18-year-old daughter Isabelle, who will play hockey next season for the Alberta Pandas.
“I missed out on so much, in terms of my daughter’s accomplishments, my son’s accomplishments,” Lajoie said. “I would have loved to have been able to see his first WHL game in Tri-City. All those factors come in.
“When a coach is evaluating whether I can be dedicated to giving the time and effort to making sure that this team continues to grow, well, the GM is also going to start to think, ‘OK, well, as much as this is a fit in our eyes, maybe it slowly doesn’t become a fit.’ It was a collaborative approach.”
Gaglardi said he was not personally involved in what he called an amicable split between Lajoie and the Blazers, but was kept up to speed by general manager Matt Bardsley.
Bardsley said the fit was right for neither the Blazers nor Lajoie.
“A major, major decision like this, you certainly let the ownership group know what’s happening,” Bardsley said.
“At the end of the day, it is my decision as the GM.
“Going in, we made the decision to bring Serge in and I felt good about the decision, but sometimes, as things evolve, maybe things just aren’t quite working.”
Bardsley noted his club was inconsistent throughout the campaign and said Lajoie faced challenges in making the move to junior hockey from the U Sports ranks.
Lajoie said he did not feel threatened by the late-season addition of assistant coach Darryl Sydor, a part-owner of the Blazers.
“It had no bearing on my decision,” Lajoie said. “I didn’t see it and I still don’t see that there was anything backwards or intentional. I looked at it as an opportunity to grow and learn from somebody. How do we integrate a guy that comes in part way through the year?”
Bardsley was asked if Sydor will be the Blazers’ next head coach.
“We talked to Darryl and I think we’re comfortable Darryl is going to come back as a coach,” Bardsley said. “At what capacity, we have to discuss that. Is it the head coach? We haven’t even discussed that.”
The Gaglardi ownership stable, which includes Sydor, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Mark Recchi, has been at the helm for 12 seasons. The next bench-boss hire will be the 10th full-time or interim head coach since the group took over.
Gaglardi, who had rave reviews for Sydor during a post-season interview with KTW, said there is no hurry to name a head coach and “the intention is to proceed with a full coach search process.”
Assistant coach Dan Kordic, who came to Kamloops with Lajoie from the Golden Bears’ program, has been retained by the Blazers, although his status with the club could be affected by the decision on a new head coach.
Lajoie seems likely to seek other opportunities behind the bench.
“If I stay out of coaching too long, do I fall out of being relevant?” Lajoie said. “Do I become less marketable? Do people forget about me?
“If I make the decision I’m tired of coaching, I can always go back into the classroom, go teach, go into a sports academy. That’s why I’m always grateful to have committed to getting my bachelor of education and also my masters in coaching.”