Everything was aligned for Travis Green to leave the Utica Comets and make a seamless transition to the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was familiarity with the club’s new coach Mike Johnston from their bench work with the Portland Winterhawks, a friendship and a similar focus on the way the game should be played.
Green met with Johnston at the NHL draft last weekend, thought about an offer to be his assistant and on Tuesday said no. That’s right, no thanks to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It wasn’t so much about saying no, it was about a resounding yes to the Vancouver Canucks organization because Green wants to continue evolving after his first year as a minor-pro bench boss. He wants to be a head coach in the NHL one day and in that respect the ongoing transition in Vancouver and the need to eventually groom the next coach here works in his favour.
“It really came down to that I want to be a head coach and that was one of the factors,” stressed Green. “I do have a lot of loyalty to Vancouver. It’s one thing to coach and feel that you have support, but I feel like there’s a tremendous amount of support in the organization for everyone. I know how that builds winning teams.”
Still, NHL gigs don’t come along that often. But the progression of good AHL coaches to bench-boss jobs in the NHL is becoming more regular and that can’t hurt Green. And time is on his side.
“Initially, you get the call, you learn that you have let things settle down and I got a lot of advice from friends I have in the business,” said the 43-year-old Castlegar native. “I was pretty sure where I was going with it and I wanted to make sure I was committed to the decision I was making. It was a big one.
“I’m a planner and not naive enough to think that just because you played, you can coach. I went to junior for a reason: to learn. The next step was to coach in the AHL and I feel I still need to get more out of the AHL. I’m good at developing players and I feel there’s still a part of me that needs to be a head coach there for more time.”
Willie Desjardins has yet to name his assistants and has a four-year contract as the new Canucks coach. How long the 57-year-old wants to be behind an NHL bench doesn’t matter to Green. He’s not going to count down the years.
“I never think like that,” he added. “They made an amazing hire in Willie and I really like the way he coaches.”
In his first year as a pro coach, Green showed patience in pushing prospects to higher levels after a slow start. And in a late-season push to a playoff position, he got the best out of Frank Corrado and Nicklas Jensen, who are expected to push for Canucks roster spots next fall. The Comets finished 35-32-5-4.
“There were some long nights,” said Green. “I’m a realist. I just felt like a lot of people around the city were antsy for me to push them in a certain way and get harder on them or whatever needed to be done. I just felt like it would have been a panic move to do something other than what I believe in and I’m glad I did.”
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