KTW caught up with Kamloops Blazers’ majority owner Tom Gaglardi on Wednesday.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
What’s your take on the season that was?
To me, the storyline on the entire season is clearly the way that this team galvanized the community. I’ve never seen support like this. It’s the most interest we’ve seen in the Kamloops Blazers in way over a decade.
The entire league is talking about it. The amount of comments and feedback from around the league, other managers and owners, has just been incredible.
Kamloops has really shaken the WHL with what our community and fan base did during that stretch.
The experience our group got in that last seven games or so, the battle to get in the playoffs, the one-game playoff versus Kelowna and then to really battle Victoria hard, and frankly I thought we deserved better in the series, is really valuable.
That will no doubt help us next year.
Did it feel extra special to beat Kelowna in the play-in game?
They love to beat us and we love to beat them. If you’re going pick a team to knock out, there’s no doubt you want to pick one of your division mates.
I don’t think there is any more natural rival to Kamloops than Kelowna. I think they would say the same thing. They consider us their biggest natural rival. I think it was fitting that it was against Kelowna and it felt good to win that at home.
What area, positionally, is most important to address this off-season?
That’s probably more a GM question. I know the answer to it.
How do you assess head coach Serge Lajoie’s first season?
It’s a big learning curve. It was a challenging year for us because we had a rookie GM and a rookie head coach and, frankly, other than the goalie coach and coaches like Chris Murray, the whole staff was rookie.
It’s certainly challenging, but it’s exciting, as well, to see these guys have different approaches and different ways of doing things.
With the way the season ended, you’ve got to give everyone credit for finding a way when it looked like we were dead to rights.
Will Serge be the head coach to start next season?
I suspect so. He’s got a long-term contract and we haven’t had any conversation about anything other than that. We’re very happy with where we are.
We had a great finish to the year and we’re excited about next season, but this week is just a week to lick our wounds. This is a series [vs. Victoria] we truly thought we could win.
What do you think assistant coach Darryl Sydor brought to the team?
Darryl really understands what it takes to win and what a successful bench feels like. He’s been a long-time player and had success at the junior level, had success at the NHL level, won a couple of Stanley Cups.
He knows what benches need. I think he was really instrumental in figuring out what his role could be to help. Sometimes you’ve got a coach that’s a hard coach and the kids need to be brought up and built back, and Darryl really understands the ying and yang, the methods, and figured out a role that he could help in.
He really worked hard to make sure the kids believed they could actually get the job done. He perhaps brought something to the staff that was missing. Darryl is a tremendous guy and I was thrilled when he agreed to join full-time and come on board and he made a difference.
Does Darryl have what it takes to be a head coach here or somewhere else?
I’ve got to think so, if that’s what he wants to do. He’s come home and I think he’d like to be involved in some way.
We’ve had lots of talks around this for a long time. What this blossoms into, I’m not sure. He’s a tremendous guy and we’d love to have him involved. He’s got kids playing competitive hockey.
I’m not sure where he’s going to be, in terms of level of commitment next year, whether he’s ready to step in and take on some sort of full-time role again with the club. I’m not sure. He did make a big difference to us down the stretch.
How different might this interview have been if the season ended a month ago?
Ask me about anything. Ask me about the [Dallas] Stars two-and-a-half-weeks ago, too. It would have been a totally different interview than today. Not totally, but frustrating, you know. That’s hockey, though. It can turn.
In terms of Dallas, we went 1-4-1 at home and we thought, oh boy, we’ve got to go on the road now for four tough games in Western Canada and we’re on the brink. We got seven out of eight points on that road trip, came home and won last night. We are in the playoffs. Everything is rosy and wonderful. It’s a crazy game.
How did the turnaround happen?
I don’t know. Somewhere along the line, the guys banded together and decided to make a big push. It had been a difficult year. We moved out two veteran guys during the season. We thought that was the right thing to do, in terms of developing our younger players. I think that worked out.
it was a challenging year. We had lots of suspensions. We had lots of change.
Jermaine, as captain, had a tough in-and-out, up-and-down year, and he kind of got going and the group really pulled together.
I don't have an answer other than the group really bonded down the stretch and became united in trying to find a way to get into the playoffs, with what was a pretty mediocre season overall.
We thought our team could get into the playoffs and we were certainly disappointed with three weeks to go, with where we sat. It was nice to have made up for it with the way we ended.
Has the Massimo Rizzo ship sailed?
I would suspect it likely has. He’s had ample opportunities to join the club. His season ended early in Penticton and he didn’t make any attempt to reach out to join us.
Minds can change over the summer on whether he still wants to go the U.S. college route. If he chooses not to, we'd like to see him in a Kamloops uniform.
We haven’t stopped trying to communicate with him. Matt Bardsley does so often. Realistically, if he was going to play in Kamloops, we probably would have seen him by now.
What are expectations for next season?
We’ll be a better team next year, but I also think the division will get tougher. It’s going to be a really tight race. Some of the weaker teams get better. We’ll be better. I don’t see the top end changing a whole lot. I think Vancouver will be another strong team again.
We should move up in the standings and be more competitive. We’ll have Logan Stankoven in the lineup full-time. We’ve got two or three really good 03-born kids. We’ve got two first-rounders [first-round picks at the WHL Bantam Draft] this year.
We brought in Centazzo and Onyebuchi. Those guys are going to have to step up now and really play key roles for us. Zane Franklin came in and did a great job.
We see this club on the way up and next year we expect to be a lot better, with fewer changes and less rookies, in terms of coaching and managing.
The great news is it looks like we’ve got another solid goaltender. It’s amazing what he’s [Dylan Garand] done as a 16-year-old. That’s a key spot filled. We’ve got to find a way to improve our depth.