Between expansion, relocation and just plain old changes of scenery, plenty of head coaches will find themselves behind new NAHL benches this season, and the North Division is no exception.
Three bench bosses will mentor new clubs in the six-team North, all of whom have proven track records of winning and development.
In Marquette, the Rangers have ushered in a respected coach who’s anything but new to the league’s North Division.
Kenny Miller, who spent the last three seasons with the Alpena IceDiggers since their move from Toledo after the 2004-05 season, will take the reigns of a third-year Marquette squad that has heightened expectations after missing the playoffs last year.
“My family and I are very happy with our decision to join the Rangers,” said Miller, the NAHL General Manager of the Year in 2007. “This is an organization that does everything first class and I’m looking forward to this coming season. The scouting staff has done a great job of identifying talent.”
A difficult decision to leave Alpena, Miller, who was the architect behind the team’s 46-point turnaround from the 2005-06 season to 2006-07, will miss his old home, but is looking forward to the task of turning the Rangers into a contender.
“We enjoyed our time in Alpena and we still have great friends there, but it was time for change and we’re glad we decided on Marquette,” said Miller, who made the move along with equipment manager Tate Precord.
With the departure of Miller in Alpena enters the highly regarded Jack Fritsche, who is no stranger to success in the NAHL.
Fritsche spent the 2005-06 season with the NAHL’s Cleveland Jr. Barons, where, in his first year, he led the team to a 35-19-4 record while guiding it to its first North Division playoff championship.
The head coach of the USHL’s Columbus Jr. Blues Jackets last season, Fritsche is one of two coaches to leave the USHL for an NAHL head coaching position this season, joining St. Louis’ Regg Simon, who last season held the head job in Des Moines.
The Detroit area hasn’t seen Junior A hockey since the Compuware Ambassadors left after the 2002-03 season, but the NAHL is back in Hockeytown in the form of the Motor City Machine, which relocated from Southern Minnesota after last season.
The Machine is led by Matt Romaniski, a seasoned coach who has strong ties to the Michigan hockey scene. He knows his team has big shoes to fill as it begins to forge its identity in the Motor City.
“The opportunity to coach in one of the country’s biggest hockey markets is great,” said Romaniski, who led the Express to a second-place finish in the NAHL’s Central Division last season. “It’s been along time since the NAHL has had a franchise here and we’re looking to bring back a winning tradition like so many of the old NAHL teams had here in Detroit.”
Three players under Romaniski’s watch last season have made college commitments, and he’s pushing for more of the same as he ushers in a new NAHL era in Detroit.
“My expectations are to have every player who puts on a Machine jersey become a better player and person by the end of the year, and to give them the opportunity to fulfill their goals and aspirations both in hockey and life,” he said.
Among the returning coaches in the North Division is Bob Mainhardt, who is back behind Mahoning Valley’s bench. Mainhardt, who has guided the Phantoms to a Roberson Cup Championship Tournament appearance the last three seasons, has had a hand in the development of over a dozen Division I players over the past two seasons.
Anthony Palumbo returns for his second season behind the Traverse City North Stars’ bench. The former Lake Superior State University standout guided the North Stars to a 23-23-12 mark last season, narrowly missing a postseason berth. Three of his players have committed to colleges for the upcoming fall.
And in Ann Arbor, USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 Team coach John Hynes and Under-17 Team coach Ron Rolston will also return to their respective posts this coming season.
Next week, NAHL.com will profile the league's South Division coaches.