Like an RCMP constable, Brent Sutter always get his man.
The Red Deer Rebels GM/owner/president/head coach was in search of an assistant coach last month and zoned in on Steve O’Rourke, who was coming off his first season as a coach at the Okanagan Hockey Academy and has also coached at the junior A level and in the American Hockey League.
O’Rourke, who had planned to return to the OHA after having the chance to coach his 14-year-old son Ethan last winter, was swayed by the opportunity to work with Sutter and the Rebels organization and signed on as an assistant with the WHL club in mid May.
“I had made a decision to go back to the Academy because of my son,” O’Rourke said Saturday, following the second of three Rebels prospects camp sessions at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. “I got to coach him last year and he’ll be back there for another two years.”
And then he ran into Ron Sutter, Brent’s brother and a former scout with the Calgary Flames.
“I was talking to Ron and he said Brent was asking for my (phone) number,” said O’Rourke. “I just wasn’t sure. You’re looking at going in one direction and once Brent talks to you it’s easy to change your mind. He’s such a good man and has such a good organization that it’s hard to say no. “A few days later my wife and I are talking about it and the next thing you know Brent is out in Penticton. I already had my mind made up before he came out there. It was a definite yes.”
O’Rourke, a native of Summerland, B.C., played in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans and Moose Jaw Warriors in the early ‘90s and later earned a degree in kinesiology and a MBA in sport management from the University of Lethbridge before beginning a minor pro playing career that included stints in the ECHL and United League as well as England.
O’Rourke, who as a Tri-City defenceman was selected by the New York Islanders in the seventh round of the 1992 NHL entry draft, moved into coaching with the Flames’ top farm team in Abbotsford in 2009 and was with the Heat as an assistant coach for two years before becoming the GM/head coach of the Langley Rivermen of the junior A BCHL.
“I walked away from Abbotsford based on family reasons,” said O’Rourke, who also has a nine-year-old daughter. “The owner in Langley approached me at Christmas of my second year with the Heat and I and hummed and hawed about the offer for a few months.
“In Abbotsford, you’re at an American Hockey League outpost. My first year I was gone for 100 nights and that didn’t include several camps. I’d see my kids on Thursday and then not again until Sunday. I just kind of decided it wasn’t the right time for me to be doing that, so I took the position in Langley because the BCHL is a weekend league.”
O’Rourke lasted one season in Langley before resigning for personal reasons.
“Unfortunately I just got into the wrong situation. I took the job for the right reasons but they didn’t turn out to be the right reasons. From there, one thing led to another. I just about got back into the AHL, I lost out on a job last summer. Then I joined the Academy and got to spend a year with my son and coach him.”
And when the season was over Sutter came calling. O’Rourke couldn’t say no.
“Obviously everyone knows this is the top league in Canada,” he said. “Junior A is great for kids who are taking the NCAA (scholarship) path but here you’re working with the best, including the coaches and team staff . . . everything.
“It’s pretty impressive. It was always a goal of mine to get back to the WHL and I’m fortunate to be getting back with a very good organization.”
O’Rourke’s family will remain in Penticton, at least for now. But he has familiar faces close by as his parents live in Red Deer.
“They’ve been here since the late ‘90s,” said the newly-signed Rebels assistant coach. “When I played pro I would always come back to Red Deer and stay in a basement suite at my parents’ house.”
Clearly, O’Rourke is following a career path, one that possibly leads him to a WHL head coaching position.
“For the first time in my coaching career I’ve really set a goal for myself and that’s kind of one of the reasons I decided to come here,” he said. “Brent is so well tied in and he runs a great organization. I could choose to be in Prince Albert or Prince George — and I’m not saying they’re not good franchises — to get my first opportunity to coach in this league, but I wanted my first opportunity to be with one of the best organizations.”