Tuesday, April 3, 2012

“Blueprint” Doug Gilmour’s Vision for the Kingston Frontenacs

Ice hockey has been played in the city of Kingston, Ontario, as far back as 1843. Don Cherry will be quick to tell you that Kingston is the birth place of hockey. The franchise currently known as the Kingston Frontenacs, who play in the Ontario Hockey League have been in existence since 1945 and have also been known as the Canadiens and the Raiders. While Kingston hockey is rich in its history, recent history has not been very prosperous. In fact, the Frontenacs currently own the second longest championship drought in the OHL, and fourth longest in the entire Canadian Hockey League. With the last division title way back in 1995, the team (and the city) has endured season after season of disappointment. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Doug Gilmour is now the team’s General Manager, and his vision for the Frontenacs is one of championships and pride. In order to realize this vision he has a Blueprint.

Image Courtesy: D'Oliveira Photography
Doug Gilmour joined the Kingston Frontenacs in 2008 when he signed a three year contract as the team’s head coach. In his final season as head coach, Gilmour and the Fronts finished third in the East and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. After serving three years as the bench boss, he became the GM and hired friend and former Toronto Maple Leaf teammate, Todd Gill to assume the head coaching position, and Darren Keily became both assistant GM and Coach.

Prior to the 2011-2012 season, the newly formed management team held a meeting. Having suffered a disappointing playoff first-round-loss, the team knew they were losing key players such as Eric Gudbranson, Nathan Moon, Ethan Werek, and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer. The team had loaded up on veteran and older players for a playoff run and it didn’t work. Now, knowing they would be looking at a massive roster turnover, the decision was made to begin a new era for the franchise.

The first decision was to remove long standing face of the franchise GM Larry Mavety, who was replaced by his good friend Doug Gilmour. President and Governor of the franchise Doug Springer approved Gilmour’s new vision setting the blueprint into motion. They knew the process would be hard, and at times painful, but it had to be done.

It had to happen because part of the vision is not accepting seasons of modest success. Simply making the playoffs and being quickly dismissed in the early rounds, would no longer be acceptable. While junior hockey is by nature and design a cyclical league, it is possible to achieve consistency. Kingston’s consistent seasons of failure are a testament to that. Through hard work, having a strategy that holds the interest of the present and the future in focus, it is possible to consistently produce a winning product as well.

Hiring Todd Gill as the Head Coach was a step in the right direction. He brings a professional approach to hockey. He played over 1,000 career games in the NHL, and played for legends, and Hall of Fame coaches such as Joel Quenville, Mike Babcock, Pat Burns and Scotty Bowman, and he takes lessons from each and every one of them. Gill had been coaching for the previous five years in his home town for the Brockville Braves of the CJHL, which he owns and played for. Gill enjoyed a successful tenure as Coach in Brockville, and plans to continue to coach the way he did there.

“Pat Burns once told me don’t change your ways, because if you change for somebody and get fired you’ll be pissed off with yourself for not doing it your way. So I’ll continue to do it my way, and hopefully have success doing that.” Gill said.

As a rookie coach in the OHL, Gill is learning with his very young team. With the majority of his players under the age of 17, and coming from midget hockey knowing only offense, Gill says; “ You have to teach them defensive zone coverage, you have to teach them how to play in the Neutral zone,  you have to teach them so much, I try to do it in segments. For them to learn the game of hockey there are three zones and you have to get to the point where the Coach trusts that you can play in every situation.” 

Image By John Duncan @FrontsFocus
The Coaching staff of the Fronts, are teaching these young players much more than hockey skills. While the core group of the team may be young, Assistant Coach, Darren Keily says, “They are good kids, but they need direction to act as professionals.”
He uses terms such as respect, work ethic, commitment, and accountability to describe what the attributes of the players of the Frontenacs will learn, and demonstrate. For instance the Fronts players are active in the community as players volunteer to go to public schools and Libraries to help promote reading with young children, as well as many other community event appearances.

In the past the players of the Fronts have at times been less than professional. Former players such as Bryan Fogarty, had struggles with addiction. Fogarty’s drinking problems when he played with the Kingston Canadiens, were so well know in fact his nick name was “Tippy”, because he was always tipsy. There have been many players graduate from the ranks in Kingston. Kirk Muller, Chris and Anthony Stewart, Walt Poddubny, Chris Gratton and Bernie Nicholls are some of the more prominent names. Don Cherry is a proud “Good Kingston Guy”, and the Fronts are determined to groom future NHL players whom the city of Kingston can proudly say, “He comes from Kingston”. This past season, Keily proudly proclaimed that the team had no off-ice problems, and not a single complaint from any of the billets who house the players. No doubt this will become a trend in the future with the current regime in place.

Having a professional and experienced group lead this young team in the ways of both hockey, and life-lessons, is an important component in the blueprint. But, choosing the right players is equally important. The management group is selective in the players they are willing to draft and acquire through trade. In the past there have been situations where players had refused to report to Kingston.  Wes O’Neill was selected second overall, but decided to play College hockey instead. Last year Max Domi, son of Tie Domi (Doug Gilmour’s friend and former teammate) also refused to report. Those days are a thing of the past now says Keily. His response to reports suggesting that top prospect Joshua Ho-Sang, would not report to Kingston “100 percent false!” The Domi decision to not report to Kingston had nothing to do with the team’s rebuilding, and absolutely nothing to do with the men running the team. It was a geographical preference to be closer to Toronto. Gilmour knew Domi only wanted to play for the London Knights, but by drafting Domi he was able to trade him to London for several second round draft picks. As part of league rules, if a first round pick refuses to report to a team, that team is awarded a compensatory first round pick the following year. As a result, the Kingston Frontenacs now own five picks (two firsts, and three seconds) in the first two rounds of the 2012 Priority Selection Draft.

The Draft will be held on April seventh, and the Fronts will be heading into this draft loaded with picks, and a strategy. The next edition of “Blueprint” will focus on the Frontenacs at the draft and the players they selected.

Local TV station Cogeco produced a series on the subject also titled The Blueprint with a brief appearance from yours truly!

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  1. To correct your post on Fronts Talk the current OHL franchise has not been in existance since 1845. It came into exsitance in 1973 when a group of local buisnessmen Mike Sumurda, Doug Cunningham, Gerry Wagar, Peter Radley and Jim McGee purchsed the Montreal Jr. Canadiens from the Molson's. The team first game was against the Oshsawa Generals in September of 1973.

    The team was sold in the late 1980's to Lou Kazowski who renamed the team the Raiders. That gong show lasted for one season. Kazowski in turn sole the team to Bob Atersley, Wren Balir and John Anderson who renamed the team, Frontenac's. That group brough in Bill Murray as a partner with Wren Blair as managing partner.

    The team was sold to the Springers in the mid 90's and they had a 4 or 5 year buy in period.

    There is you local OHL history in a nutshell.

    Hockey was not played in the 1840's in any offical capcity. The first game between Queen's and RMCwas played on the Kingston Harbor in the 1880's.

  2. In response to the correction, according to info on Wickipedia

    "Team history predates the OHA, back to 1945, to a team known as the Kingston Victorias. This franchise was founded in the OHA in 1973–74, then known as the Kingston Canadians until 1987–88. The team was briefly known as the Kingston Raiders in 1988–89, and as the Frontenacs ever since."

    "In 1843 a British Army officer in Kingston, Ontario, in Upper Canada, wrote "Began to skate this year, improved quickly and had great fun at hockey on the ice."

    While the current Fronts franchise was not playing hockey in 1840's hockey was being played then in Kingston. The team history does go back much further than 1973.

    I will edit the article accordingly. Thanks pointing that out.

    1. Team history does not go further back than 1973. There have been lots of teams in Kingston however the franchise that we know call the Frontenacs started in 1973. The Aces we the big draw prior to the Canadians but they were OHA SR A. There was an ECHL team known as the Frontenacs however that was a professional team and league. The CKLC's, the Goodyears etc were all Kingston teams but they were not Major Junior. At the time of the Aces there was a Junior B team known as the Frontenacs during the 1950's and 60's.

  3. Thanks for the article. One comment about using wikipedia as a reference though: Don't accept Wikipedia information as gospel. Information can be edited there by ANYONE. That's why folks who patrol wikipedia demand references to important facts from elsewhere. So if you find something at wikipedia that's wrong, you should feel free to correct it. Providing references would of course help. ;)

  4. Kingston Frontenacs is historical clube. But they have lost their reputation. Hope they will be get back their reputation. Now their new coach is Todd Gill. Best of luck.