An Interview with VP / GM Doug Soetaert

Jon Rosen: Welcome to a special edition Silvertips chat here!  We have Vice President / General Manager of the Everett Silvertips, Doug Soetaert.  Doug, thanks so much for the time!  We’ve enjoyed these summertime chats here in the off-season.

Doug Soetaert: Yeah, they’ve been great.  They’ve been important and have given some insight to what’s going on in Silvertip world and in my world and in the organization’s world, so I think it’s a good thing.

JR: And there will be several more to come over the summer.  But right now we want to talk about the Head Coaching position with the Everett Silvertips.  Craig Hartsburg stepped down to become the Associate Coach with the Calgary Flames.  Everyone in our organization would like to wish Craig and his wife Peggy the absolute best.

DS: Yes, absolutely.  Obviously he stepped down from us, but it’s a step up in his coaching career, and it was an unexpected thing to begin with.  I know Craig was not soliciting or trying to move on.  He was very happy – he and Peggy – here in Everett.  Brent Sutter came to me at our WHL Bantam Draft and asked for permission to talk to Craig because he was looking for an assistant.  We talked for a while, and obviously I gave him the permission to talk with him.  They came after him very hard.  I know they gave him a very lucrative contract and a three-year deal, so it’s something that just happened to be there for him.  It was the right fit because he had worked with Brent before at the World Juniors, and felt comfortable with him.  So it was a case of making a decision and obviously the National Hockey League is the league everyone wants to go to, because it pays extremely well, and for coaches, it’s the highest level you can coach at.  I can tell you it was a very difficult situation for Craig because he kind of felt bad for what happened last year, obviously with his heart condition and missing 30 games.  I think he made the right decision for himself and his family.

JR: So, Doug, what happens now?  Discuss the process of the next few weeks, and how the next Head Coach of the Everett Silvertips will be chosen.

DS: Well, I’ve been soliciting – well, I shouldn’t say soliciting.  I’ve been receiving phone calls and resumes from numerous people that are very interested in coaching our hockey club from quality Junior A coaches to guys who have been in the minor pros to guys who have been head coaches in the National Hockey League to assistant coaches in the NHL to coaches who have been coaching in Junior Hockey for a long time all over Canada.  It’s a situation where I’m going to take my time, study who’s available, talk to a few people, and make a decision probably around the draft time, or very shortly thereafter.  So that’s the process that we’re going to go through.

JR: How much does NHL coaching experience weigh in to your decision?

DS: I don’t know if it has a big factor.  I’ve always looked at the fact that we’re here to develop hockey players.  That’s our sole purpose – to develop hockey players and be competitive every year and give those hockey players the opportunity to develop themselves as individuals, as players, and get a chance to move up to the National Hockey League.  That’s what I’m supposed to do – to find someone to lead that way.  There are guys coaching Juniors who have played pro who have quality backgrounds.  There are people who haven’t played the game who are good coaching in the minors, so it’s something that I’ve got to weigh and see who’s going to be a good fit for our organization and where we are with our players, and kind of move from there.

JR: You talk about developing and cultivating your talent, and part of that has to do with continuity, and so you’ve indicated that you’re looking for a three-year commitment from the next head coach of the Everett Silvertips.

DS: Well, I said I would like to see possibly somebody who could commit three years.  It’s a tough situation.  People have got to understand that when NHL teams come knocking on your door, that doesn’t happen too often.  So we’ve been fortunate to have Kevin Constantine move to the American Hockey League with the Minnesota team.  He moved up.  And Craig Hartsburg has moved up to the National Hockey League.  That’s part of our job, too – to help these people move to a higher level.  I’d love to have somebody for three years, and I’m going to try to do that.  But is it 100% possible?  No.  We’ll see who the individual is, and what it’s going to take.

JR: Is it possible to really pinpoint or have a general idea of the qualities or general characteristics that you’re looking for in the next Head Coach?

DS: Well, I think, Jon, somebody that has leadership – obviously he has to be a leader.  He’s got to have an understanding of communications, being able to communicate with his players.  He’s got to be demanding of his players, but still have an open door policy, which all of our coaches have had.  And a guy that’s willing to develop a nucleus of a younger team that obviously is going to be together for a few years now.  So I think it’s important that this coach be a good communicator, a good hockey man systems-wise, and is able to get the most out of the players by pushing them and getting them to work at the highest and hardest level that they’re capable.  A lot of these young players come in and they think they’re working hard, and when we talk to them and tell them it’s not hard enough, because we know that there’s more in the tank.  So it’s up to us and the coaching staff to get the most out of these players, which in return helps our hockey club and helps that individual reach that maximum potential. 

JR: There are two other teams in the WHL also looking for head coaches in Moose Jaw and Seattle.  Does it provide any kind of a challenge?  Does it impact the coaching search at all?

DS: No, not at all.  I don’t worry about that, whatsoever.  There are a lot of quality coaches, and you’ve just got to make sure that you have the right fit for where you’re at, and you have to be able to work with that coach.  Everyone has different personalities as General Managers, as organizations, and that doesn’t come in to effect at all.

JR: I also get the sense that the NHL Draft is around the time when you start to see the wheels of this process start turning a little bit.  Being able to have so many different hockey personalities in an area right there – is that when you might start to have many face-to-face conversations, and build a search from there?

DS: Well, honestly I’ve talked to a couple people already in the process of moving through a list that I’ve prepared from the number of people who have applied.  And there have been several people who haven’t applied that I’ve kept an eye on over the years.  The NHL Draft is about the time when all the NHL teams have their coaches in place, and that’s the trickle down effect.  A lot of the coaches want to coach at the highest level.  An example is Cory Clouston, a coach who has coached in the National Hockey League, he coached in the minors, he coached in our league.  He’d like to coach at the highest level.  So whether it’s the American League, or the NHL – I’m not saying he wouldn’t like to coach in Everett, because he would like to coach – but there’s a trickle down effect.  Until those jobs are filled, you have to wait and find out who’s available.  So nobody’s willing to make a commitment at this point in time.

JR: Doug, you look at this team – you have Ryan Murray, who’s going to be 18 years old.  Kent Simpson is going to be 19 years old as well.  And that’s not even to start mentioning the support and passion of Silvertips hockey, which is so strong throughout the entire region.  So I’d imagine that it’s a very popular coaching position.  As you said, you’ve already received your share of calls and resumes, and there are a lot of people who are very excited to have the opportunity to chat about this.

DS: Oh, absolutely.  I think we’ve proven ourselves towards being a solid organization, a first class organization.  We treat the players right.  We treat our coaches right, our staff, our fans, and we’ve always had a competitive product.  I think it’s important people know that the word is out there.  Through NHL Head Scouts who are in our building all the time – they call me recommending coaches.  It’s a good place to live, it’s a great community, we’ve got a great building and we’ve been successful.  It didn’t just happen – we’ve had to work at it.  So I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to find a decent coach.

JR: Do you foresee another assistant coaching position being filled?

DS: I’m not sure right now.  I’m going to wait and see where I’m at with the Head Coach, and obviously talk to him.  There’s an area we were looking at possibly close to this year, which is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, because we feel that it’s important that these young men have a quality training program, which we have.  Chris Walker has educated himself in that aspect of it.  He’s a medical trainer by trade, and it sometimes is a little difficult to do both.  So we’re looking to possibly hire a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Video Coach, or a full time assistant.  So there are different options that we’re looking at right now.

JR: Talk a little bit about Chris Hartsburg’s role with this coaching staff, as well, on and off the ice.  From what I understand, Chris is not just a coach.  He works at camps, some USA Hockey events.  He represents the Silvertips across the country.

DS: Absolutely.  Chris is a bright young hockey coach who was coaching before he came here, had an opportunity to coach in our organization along with his father, and learned a lot from his dad, and obviously has a career path of his own that he’d like to follow.  He loves Everett, loves the organization, and wants to continue on as long as possible.  And rightfully so, because he brings a lot to the table.  He’s a passionate guy and does a great job in regards to video and communicating with the players.  He’ll probably have some responsibilities this year with regards to the power play.  That would be left up to the new coach, but I know that Jay handled the power play last year, and [Chris] handled the penalty kill.  Assistant Coaches want to be used.  They don’t want to just be moving pucks, and Chris has that quality in him to be a very strong assistant for whomever comes in.

JR: You look at the coaching in this league – you look at the time Craig Hartsburg spent in Everett.  You look at the young Head Coaches like Kris Knoblauch in Kootenay, Ryan Huska in Kelowna.  And then there are the stalwarts like Don Hay in Vancouver, Lorne Molleken, Don Nachbaur, and you’ve got to be thinking that the coaching in this league right now is at a very high point.

DS: Well, it is.  It has always been, and I think, Jon – this is before you came on board – our organization turned that table a little bit because when we came on board, I hired Kevin Constantine, who had vast NHL experience and was a quality coach at that time for an expansion team.  Don Hay wasn’t in the league at that time, but they went and hired him a year or two after.  We had pretty decent success with average teams because we were an expansion club.  We kind of over-succeeded at times because of the passion of the players and the coaching, which is a good thing.  So the coaching now in this league – the entire league – is quality coaching.  And it has to be, because we’re here developing the top kids in the world to try to be National Hockey League players.  And we have no problem telling people that we’re here to develop NHL players, and should they not become NHL players they have that option to go to school and have their education paid for.  And then obviously, they still have that opportunity to maybe become a National Hockey League player, which has happened for kids going to school and coming out and continuing their development, and moving on out of the universities of Canada.

JR: This is fantastic to hear, and thank you very much for clarifying many aspects of this coaching search.  We want to move on to a few more questions, the first one of which is in regards to the upcoming CHL import draft, which takes place later this month.  The Silvertips have both the 21st and 81st selections in the draft, and I know that you recently visited Germany to scout the Under-18 Championships.  Especially with that #21 pick, the Silvertips would be looking to secure a player that could come in and make an impact.

DS: Well, we are.  It’s a very, very difficult process.  People do not understand how hard this is.  Obviously this is with regards to finding the best players in the world, but if you don’t find the agent, you don’t get them to agree to come over to your organization.  A lot of the kids now are being signed by their European parent clubs, and that’s how it works over there.  They play their youth hockey in an organization, their youth hockey moves up, and then they have a junior team that they play for, and the junior team is associated with a pro team over in Europe.  When they become juniors, basically they sign their rights over to the pro team.  So it’s a very difficult situation, and we got lucky a few years ago when we took older players like Gudas and Rissanen, they really helped our organization when we needed it on the back end.  We’re hoping to maybe do that again this year.  Whether a forward or defenseman, who’s really available, I know who’s available; whether we can get him or not and have the agent agree on him coming over here is another thing.  We’ve been working on that for quite a while, and we’ll just kind of see where it goes.  But if you can find a top-end European that really adds something, it’s like adding a free player.

JR: We’ve also been hearing a little bit more about defensive prospect Seth Jones.  There have been a couple articles recently.  I know you have been in contact with Seth.  Are there any updates that you could provide?

DS: All I can tell everybody is that everybody’s got to sit tight and let the young man do his two years at the program, because when you sign up for the U.S. Development Program, you’re locked in for two years.  The only way you get out of that program is by paying a hefty fee, or if you’re not good enough, and they’ll let you go for nothing.  So obviously, he’s an elite player that is getting lots of recognition.  I’ve been in contact with him when I was in Germany.  It was the first time Seth had a chance to see Ryan Murray play, and he was floored by the quality of player that Ryan is and obviously would love to play with him.  I don’t see Seth coming here this year, but I feel very good about what’s been transpiring behind the scenes with what has been indicated to me by his agent, who I’ve had continuous discussions with over the last year and a half.  And the other thing is that Seth has not committed to a college yet.  So for a player of that caliber, obviously that’s a signal to me.  He’s leaving all of his options open right now, and I know we’re a very viable option for him, should and when it’s time to make that decision next year.

JR: Doug, talking about several other Silvertips prospects, there’s Ty Mappin, who was recently selected by the NHLPA Mentorship Program to really learn about being an adult hockey player.  He’s somebody the Silvertips are high on.  The second round draft pick as well, Dawson Leedahl – these are two players the Silvertips have very high expectations for.

DS: Yes.  We’re very, very excited.  We had a rookie camp down here, and Ty Mappin couldn’t make it down to our rookie camp because his agent had a camp at the same time.  Dawson Leedahl was down here, and I can assure people, when they see him, they’ll know why we got a second round pick when we traded Kellan Tochkin to Medicine Hat.  When they see this young man come in to play, they’ll be pretty excited about him for the next four years.  He’s a quality player with great skill and works extremely hard.  He’s a very powerful young man at the age that he is.  So I think we’ve got two outstanding centermen, and I think when you look back at the history of the Silvertips, when we had Hamill and Mueller, things really happened.  So with Mappin, he’s an elite player right now in his age group, and we had Leedahl rated as the top player out of Saskatchewan.  So the future is bright.  We’re going to bring in these boys when it’s the proper time, along with the other 94’s that we’ve got coming in this year, along with Ryan Chynoweth and Michael Bell, and all these 95’s that we’ve got coming in.  It should take a year or so for everything to fall into place, and people are going to have to be patient.  They’re going to have to understand this process we go through. I think we’re right back on track.

JR: It’s great to be able to talk about this and have these hot stove discussions over the off-season, and we’re going to keep chatting with Silvertips Vice President / General Manager Doug Soetaert.  We really appreciate you coming on to the broadcast today to talk about some of the coaching staff questions that many Silvertips fans have, and also talking about Silvertips prospects.  It’s great to talk about this, and thank you very much.

DS: OK, no problem, Jon.  I look forward to the next one.



Portions of this interview can also be heard on the flagship home of the Silvertips, Fox Sports 1380 KRKO Radio.

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