There’s little doubt that John Paddock is worthy of his nomination of WHL Eastern Conference coach of the year.
The former NHL bench boss and long-time minor pro coach did a masterful job of guiding the Regina Pats through the 2014-15 season, taking the club to the second round of the playoffs despite trading away a large handful of the team’s top players in January.
It was Paddock’s first year behind the Pats bench and the exceedingly experienced mentor hopes there are many more to follow.
“I hope this is my last job in hockey but I hope it’s not done anytime soon,” Paddock, who also holds down the position of senior vice-president of hockey operations, told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post this week. “I didn’t come here to use this to springboard anywhere. It would be hard to envision going anywhere else right now.”
Paddock’s young squad finished second in the Conference, then swept the Swift Current Broncos in a first-round post-season series before falling to the heavily-favoured Brandon Wheat Kings in five games. But even the second-round ouster didn’t dampen Paddock’s spirits or take away from the season as a whole.
“Everything has been super,” he said. “There hasn’t been any real downside for me personally or professionally. There are great people here to work for and work with. It has been a tremendous experience.”
Paddock, who was hired last August after the Pats’ new owners turned over every stone in search of the right man, suggested that he harbours little interest in returning to the pro ranks. In fact, he’s not convinced there’s a lot of interest in him at the next level.
For now, at least, he’s enjoying the experience of operating his own program for the first time since being GM/ head coach of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
“Nobody is coming to me with a three-million-dollar contract so it’s irrelevant,” the 60-year-old Oak River, Man., native told Harder. “I’m emotionally invested (in the Pats) right now.
“I’m four hours away from where I grew up, four hours away from our cabin and from my mom, who’s aging. I’m not looking to move anywhere. I have no reason to even think about it.”
• Jordan Papirny is the classic example of a clutch goaltender — the type who rises to the challenge of performing in big games.
The Brandon Wheat Kings stopper, in his second WHL season, possesses a career regular-season 2.97 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
But in 19 playoff contests, those numbers have risen to 2.65 and .926. He’s flown under the radar during the September to late March stretch, but has emerged as a difference-maker during the post-season.
Papirny boasts a 1.98 GAA and a .938 save percentage this spring, along with a 3-0 mark in extra time, including a 42-save, 3-2 double overtime triumph that eliminated the Edmonton Oil Kings in the opening round.
Naturally, he has his share of admirers, including every member of the Wheat Kings. Forward John Quenneville has marvelled at the goaltender’s tendency to rise to the occasion.
“You look at the Edmonton game, I don’t think he was going to let another goal in,” Quenneville, whose team hosts the Calgary Hitmen tonight to open the Eastern Conference final, told Rob Henderson of the Brandon Sun. “I think he’s there when we need him the most and that’s a great trait to have.”
Papirny doesn’t like to talk about himself, preferring instead to dwell on the thrills of the post-season.
“Everything’s a lot more ramped up in playoffs and the excitement’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a fun time of year, obviously, because of what’s at stake.”
Despite his decent regular-season numbers and excellent playoff stats, the 19-year-old was passed over in last year’s NHL draft and is ranked 28th among North American goalies by Central Scouting for this year’s draft. Papirny, was however, an Eastern Conference second team all-star this year.
“I think he’s a really underrated guy in that he doesn’t get as much draft talk as other guys which I don’t know why, it blows my mind,” said Quenneville.
“You look at the (1996-born) goalies . . . he’s the best of his age group. Just look at the win column this year, how he’s done. He’s such a great goalie. He’s stolen so many games for us and he’s huge.”
• Winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, who will lead his Portland Winterhawks into tonight’s opening game of the Western Conference final against the host Kelowna Rockets, and Brandon centre Tim McGauley are the finalists for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL player of the year.
Bjorkstrand captured the league scoring title with 63 goals and 118 points in just 59 games, while McGauley, the Eastern Conference nominee, finished third in scoring with 105 points, including 42 goals, in 72 games.
Bjorkstrand was selected in the third round, 89th overall, by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2013 NHL entry draft.