The Red Deer Rebels will be lead by another former NHLer next season.
Steve Konowalchuk, who played 15 seasons in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche, was named the team’s next head coach Tuesday.
“When I found out Red Deer was looking for a coach and you find out there may be some interest there, it got my wheels spinning. With Red Deer being a top organization and a chance to grow as a coach and a hockey person, that really got me excited,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday shortly after the announcement.
“The other part was just I missed working with the players.”
The 48-year-old is currently a pro scout for the New York Rangers and served as an assistant coach with Colorado between 2009-11 and in Anaheim from 2017-18.
His biggest success came between those stints in the junior ranks from 2011-2017 with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Over six seasons in Seattle, he collected a 219-176-22-15 record, leading them to a pair of WHL Finals and a WHL Championship in his final season.
On the flip side, the Rebels have struggled over the past three campaigns, with a combined record of 61-77-11-5.
Rebels owner, president and GM Brent Sutter said Konowalchuck is a proven winner, a high character person and hopes he can lift the team to new heights over the next few seasons.
“He’s a really good hockey man, he’s an honest person that’s going to tell you the truth,” said Sutter, who stepped down as head coach on April 11, after being behind the bench for the last nine seasons.
“We think a lot alike when it comes to the game. The expectations you have from the players. It was a really good fit for us and I’m really excited that he’s committed to being our coach and we’re excited to have him here.”
Sutter added that on top of being a great coach, he thinks the former pro fits the ethos of the organization.
“All those boxes that I wanted to tick off for our head coach, what I wanted to see from a head coach, not just from a coaching perspective but the type of person he is, his personality, everything. Very team-orientated person,” Sutter said.
“Someone who is going to be very caring towards the players. Someone the players can trust and it just seemed like it would be a real good fit in so many different ways.”
Konowalchuk, who will be the sixth coach in the Red Deer Rebels 20-plus year history, said he missed forming connections with players and helping set them up for the future.
“I often look back at the work being very rewarding, that was another big factor that made me get back and get involved at the junior age,” said the Salt Lake City, Utah native.
“Help the players, not just in hockey but in general. They’re moving away from home and you have a big impact on the future of these kids. That was very rewarding.”
Along with pedigree, Konowalchuck brings a fresh perspective to the Rebels. As someone who has scouted and coached at the NHL level, he believes there are at least a few lessons to bring to central Alberta.
“On the ice, I don’t believe it’s changed as much as people like to say. If you look at the Stanley Cup playoffs right now, just like 20 years ago, there’s one puck out and the guy that wants it more and also has the ability – between strength, quickness and size – whichever ability or wanting it more – the teams that have the most of those kinds of players are still playing,” said Konowalchuk, who picked up 396 points in 790 NHL games.
“That skill has to still play hard. So, all our guys in the locker room are going to be dreaming of playing in the NHL, it hasn’t changed. There’s one puck and every NHL team is looking for guys that are going to win those battles and do the little things and go through a wall to help the team win.”
Konowalchuk will join the Rebels in August after his duties with the Rangers are complete.