New Edmonton Oilers head coach Tom Renney talks to the media at Rexall Place in Edmonton on June 22, 2010.
Photograph by: Walter Tychnowicz, edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON — Ralph Krueger, who was at Rexall Place soaking up the raucous, rocking building in the 2006 Stanley Cup final as a European consultant for the Carolina Hurricanes, is now working for the other side as the Edmonton Oilers' new associate coach.
"The sixth game in Edmonton was one of the most insane hockey atmospheres I've ever seen, and the first time I saw a crowd win a game by itself," said the former Swiss national team coach, who is joining head coach Tom Renney's staff after agreeing to a two-year deal.
"I remember being in that rink with my son, Justin (a Hurricanes draft pick in 2006), and it changed the way Justin thought about the game. And it's also one of the visions I'm taking with me into this job with the Oilers ... to get that spirit going again.
"It was so beautiful from a sports perspective, to see how much Edmonton loves their hockey, " said Krueger, 50, who was rewarded with a Cup ring after the Hurricanes beat the Oilers in seven games.
Krueger coached the Swiss national team from 1997 through the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He thought about recharging his batteries after his time was up with the Swiss but, out of the blue, Renney called his summer home in Kenora, Ont.
Renney originally wanted Don Hay of the Western Hockey League's Vancouver Giants, but when that didn't work out, Krueger was the man he went after.
The coaching deal came together very quickly, with Krueger grateful that the Hurricanes let him inside their organization to see how an NHL club worked.
He has a pretty good feel what to expect with the Oilers, even though this will be his first NHL coaching foray. The Winnipeg native grew up in Steinbach, Man., before going to Germany to play 30 years ago.
"My plans to take time off didn't really go very well. I was missing hockey already dramatically ... my runs in the summer weren't as enjoyable," said a joking Kreuger, who coached against Renney often when the Oilers head man was running Canada's national program.
He also had more than a passing acquaintance with Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini and president Kevin Lowe from their time at the Olympics and world championships, actually talking to both of them at the NHL entry draft in Los Angeles last month.
There was no job offer at the time, but Krueger, who attends the NHL draft every summer, knew he wanted a new challenge.
"When I talked to Tom, it was the first time I felt my heart shoot up. I said, 'I have to listen to this heartbeat here.' It's the perfect way into the NHL for me, with the perfect people," said Krueger, who is joining Kelly Buchberger (back for a third season) and Steve Smith, the former Chicago Blackhawks pro scout and ex-Oilers defenceman who will look after the defence.
Buchberger's role on the coaching staff is up in the air, as is the part of the roster Krueger will look after.
It has been a mutual admiration society between Renney and Krueger for a long time. They have coached against each other countless times during the last 20 years.
"As an associate coach, Ralph will have a voice in how we play. We think the game similarly, feeling a defensive foundation is paramount but we want to attack hard. We identified with that talking on the phone and lined up," said Renney.
Krueger's Swiss teams were heavily into defence, suffocating opponents, but that was because they usually couldn't keep up to the firepower of other teams, shocking Canada in the 2006 Olympics.
That's not all Krueger knows, however. He was an offensive player in Germany, leading the league with 81 points, including 42 goals in 36 games, in 1980-81 in Duesseldorf.
"This is an exciting hire for us, to be honest," said Renney. "I was happy his name was under the radar. He lacks a bit of NHL experience, but the width and breadth of what he's done is second to none ... look what he did (the Swiss went from 15th to seventh in the International Ice Hockey Federation rankings).
"Hopefully, he can translate some of that to us."
Krueger's son Justin, who was born in Duesseldorf, and went to Cornell University to study hotel management, was on the German blue-line in the 2010 world championship.
He has a contract offer from Carolina, but decided with his agent, Don Baizley, that it was best for Justin to play one year in Europe before he tried the NHL.
OVERTIME: Taylor Hall won't be playing in this year's world junior championship, even if he doesn't make the Edmonton Oilers. Hall, the first pick in the June draft and a star on Canada's world team last Christmas, decided not to attend next week's summer development camp in St. John's, N.L. Hockey Canada has dictated that if a junior player passes on that camp, he can't be on the team when it's picked in December. The only exceptions are for injury or if a player has been on two previous world teams.
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