“Good Guy-Deserves Something Good”
Everybody comes from somewhere, and to get where he’s going, he’s traveled a hard road.
You have to have experienced how hard the road is in the minor leagues, to appreciate where he has now landed.
Dallas Eakins…NHL head coach.
The Anaheim Ducks have a new head coach. The San Diego Gulls have lost their head coach.
Eakins inherits a Ducks franchise screaming for direction, for leadership, for philosophy, for camaraderie, for pride.
That’s what Eakins brought to the San Diego Gulls in just four short seasons, once the American Hockey League dropped a team into the aging Sports Arena, the building that once upon a time rocked and rolled during the hey day of the Western Hockey League.
The building that saw some good hockey in the short life span of the World Hockey Association. The old cement structure that saw the rebirth of the Gulls in places like the IHL, WCHL and ECHL.
You have to want it badly to be where Eakins has been, to appreciate where he has gotten too.
He rode buses and played in places like Moncton, New Brunswick and St. John’s Newfoundland. He wore uniforms in Cincinnati and Chicago too, eating hamburgers, drinking beer, piling up penalty minutes,enduring long bus rides, and hoping for an NHL callup.
Journeyman best describes what he was. He played for 8-different NHL teams, cups of coffee, if you will, but it never doused his spirit, only fueling his desire to learn. He wore 10-different crests on his jerseys in the minors. That’s lot of dedication, long nights, lousy pay, and great uncertainty.
He crossed paths with a legend, Hall of Fame coach Roger Neilsen, Captain Video, an NHL lifer who had great success with the Vancouver Canucks, Rangers, and Flyers, before cancer snuffed out his life.
Eakins learned from the ever eclectic Neilsen, not just strategy, but the psychology of the player, the psyche of success and failure, and the keys to a hockey lifestyle.
The learning curve brought results, a head coaching job with the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs top farmclub. Success there, and a chance to go to the show, the Edmonton Oilers, famous for the Gretzky-Messier-Coffey-Kurri-Fuhr era.
Expectations always high at the Northlands Coliseum-Rexall Place.. Not much reality though.
Eakins staggered in the year and a third he had with the once proud Oilers. They gave him the youngest roster in the NHL, little on defense, virtually no goaltending and expected him to win.
He wasn’t ready, and neither were all the kids he was force feeding on the ice. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent Hopkins Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, aged 19-to-22, weren’t ready either. Dispatched by critics, fried by the media, and then fired by those who could not understand how he could go (36-63-14). They’ve gone thru 3-more coaches since then, and have just 1-playoff series appearance in 12-years, even with the generational Connor McDavid on the roster.
He landed in San Diego, thanks to the foresight of another minor league lifer, longtime GM-Bob Ferguson, who scouted, scoped him out, and coached against him in the minors. Enemy, became friend, became confidant, begetting success with the Gulls.
This isn’t just about wins and losses, though the (344-237-64) career record in the AHL is impressive, when you consider the turnstyle rosters AHL teams have with callups, injuries and trades.
It might be the toughest place to coach anywhere. Half the players want out and want to go to the NHL. The other half are pissed they are in the AHL not the NHL, and you never know one day to the next at practice, who is on your roster.
The eclectic Eakins invoked all things learned from Captain Video (Neilsen) about the approach to the game, what the room should be like, and how to push different buttons on different players. He was coaching a global roster, from the US-Canada-Europe-Russia, teeagers to college grads, Canadian juniors to a foreign legion of talent. 1st round picks to fringe people.
It wasn’t just time at the rink, but how you conducted life away from the rink, with the vision of where you wanted to be. Eakins gave his really young roster a blueprint, and challenged them to deal with it.
Last checked, 28-Gulls played up in Anaheim over the last two years, including a core who helped an NHL playoff run, and a host of high draft picks who had good seasons this past winter in San Diego. Yes he was given talent, but yes he molded that talent..
You ask John Gibson, Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour, Kevin Boyle, Kallie Kosilla and a host of other former Gulls, about that coaches impact, and they rave, not just about Xs and Os, but the ABC’s of being a man or a father, a friend or a teammate..
Eakins isn’t the first to leave here to go to the show, but maybe the most successful.. But he leaves a bit of a legacy with a (154-94-23) record with the guys wearing Orange.
Donnie Waddell led the Gulls back to the ice as GM-and-Coach, when it was in the International Hockey League, then played in the far flung West Coast and East Coast Leagues, before the franchise folded in a sea of red-ink.
Waddell is now GM and President of the Carolina Hurricanes. Rick Dudley, a longtime standout player in the NHL-WHA, was here as a coach, and went to Tampa Bay. Mike Ramsey, the ex-Buffalo Sabre, coached here and went back to the Minnesota Wild. Lindy Ruff was here and wound up in Buffalo as head coach.
This won’t be easy. The Ducks have age and injury and salary cap challenges. They have older players who seemed to wave a white flag last year. They have tons of young players, most already schooled in the Eakins Encycolpedia way of doing things.
Anaheim surely isn’t forever down-trodden. But if they can flip Winnipeg, rebuild Montreal, fix Ottawa, overhaul the Kings, or take last place St Louis to the Blues raising the Cup, then Anaheim can rebound.
Violating the rule ‘no cheering in the pressbox’…yes I am. Dallas Eakins caused all this with with his personality, philosophy and hockey lifestyle.
A good guy, a better man, who deserved something good to happen to him, Eakins and the Ducks head coaching job.