Taking the helm

Kootenay Ice announce hiring of Luke Pierce as seventh coach in franchise history; Merritt native 'embracing a new adventure'

Luke Pierce has been named the seventh head coach in Kootenay Ice franchise history.

When Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager, set out to find a replacement for longtime bench boss Ryan McGill, he had four key points in mind:  teaching, communication, patience and the ability to relate to today’s young player.

Chynoweth is convinced he’s found all of that in the 31-year-old native of Merritt, B.C.

“We talked to a lot of people and just kept coming back to Luke and his abilities,” Chynoweth said Tuesday. “Everyone I talked to, they talked about his teams getting better as the year progressed, how hard they worked and obviously with the turnover on our team, that’s going to be key for us.”

Prior to being named the newest head coach of the Kootenay Ice, Pierce was the head coach and general manager of the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials since November 2009.

Through six seasons, Pierce coached his hometown Centennials to six playoff appearances and a regular season record of 168-111-21. He was named the BCHL’s Interior Division Coach of the Year in 2012-13. He also served as an assistant coach for Team Canada West at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge.

“I’m thrilled. It’s been one of my goals since I started coaching in the B.C. Hockey League — I always kind of saw that as the next progression,” Pierce said over the phone from Merritt Tuesday morning. “I’m delighted to be in the Western Hockey League, but even more so to be in Cranbrook. The opportunity to work with Jeff Chynoweth, Garnet [Kazuik], the rest of the staff that they’ve got there and the tradition and culture they’ve built — it’s the absolute perfect fit for me and my family and we’re really excited about getting down there.”

The hiring of Pierce isn’t the first time Chynoweth has selected someone without major junior experience to be his next shot-caller.

Mark Holick came to the Ice as head coach in 2007-08 following nine seasons as a head coach at the Junior ‘A’ level. He’s now entering his third full season as head coach with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars.

Kris Knoblauch joined the Ice as an assistant coach in 2008-09 after one season as an assistant coach with the Prince Albert Raiders. He was promoted to head coach of the Ice in 2010-11 after Holick left to become the head coach of the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. Knoblauch just wrapped up his third complete season as head coach of the OHL’s Erie Otters.

The lack of major junior experience didn’t phase Chynoweth then, doesn’t faze him now and it’s a challenge Pierce is looking forward to tackling.

“I coached against some very good coaches in [the BCHL], but there are some extremely good, experienced coaches in the Western Hockey League,” Pierce said. “The game management, bench management and all those little things — I’m not an arrogant person — I realize I have to keep my ears open and learn a lot that way.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of it. I respect how good the league is. I respect how good the coaches in that league are. I look forward to learning from them and, at the same time, learning how to beat them.”

With a roster that could see significant turnover, Pierce might be looking at tutoring one of the younger squads in the Western Hockey League come the 2015-16 season.

“The one thing with youth is there’s always enthusiasm, so I’m excited about that,” Pierce said. “It’s an opportunity for these guys. They’re extremely fortunate to be playing in the best junior hockey league in the world. We’re really going to push that and motivate them through that.

“We’ll live with their mistakes. I’m all about growth. The only way you can allow players to get better is to allow them to make mistakes. We’re going to be okay with that and the learning process.”

Young roster or not, both Pierce and Chynoweth are accustomed to success, so the potential roster turnover shouldn’t serve as any sort of ominous cloud in Cranbrook.

The Kootenay Ice hold an active WHL record for consecutive seasons at .500 or above — 16 seasons — as well as an active WHL record for consecutive playoff appearances — 17.

Pierce took the Centennials to the BCHL post-season in all six seasons behind the bench and as far as he is concerned, he doesn’t plan on being the guy responsible for ending both lengthy streaks belonging to the Kootenay Ice.

“It’s a daunting task. It’s definitely a big challenge,” Pierce said. “I don’t want to be known as the guy who put an end to that type of a streak. At the same time, I have to be cognizant of this being a process and making sure we follow the right steps as I learn the league and the players learn me. It’s going to take us some time for sure.

“We’re going to compete, there’s no question.

“It’s [about] a relentless work ethic. Scoreboards will take care of themselves if you approach the game the right way and you work your hardest.”

Prior to his coaching days, Pierce laced up as a forward with the KIJHL’s Revelstoke Grizzlies in 2000-01, tally 23 goals and 56 points in 47 games before graduating to the BCHL and his hometown Centennials.

In two seasons with the Centennials, he stacked up 18 goals and 45 points in 108 games, before playing out his 20-year-old campaign with the Vernon Vipers.

To say Merritt holds a special place in Pierce’s heart would serve as a serious understatement.

Along with his wife Amy and boys William, Bennett, and Austin, Pierce hopes to make the move from Merritt to Cranbrook by July.

“It’s been such an amazing experience here,” Pierce said. “I don’t think there’s many people that have the luxury of coaching a junior hockey team in their hometown. I grew up here, I played here, my parents are here and one of my brothers is still here. Being around family and living the highs and lows with them — I’ll definitely miss it and the relationships I built with the people here.

“It’s been an exhilarating experience and there will definitely be some mixed emotions when I leave, but it’s all about looking at the future and embracing a new adventure.”

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The hockey world is a tight-knit community, much like the small mountain town of Cranbrook. It is that very essence that helped land Luke Pierce in the East Kootenay as the newest coach of the Kootenay Ice.

According to president and general manager Jeff Chynoweth, his newest bench boss came at the recommendation of Jim Hulton, a former OHL head coach and NHL assistant coach (Florida Panthers).

Hulton, now the general manager and head coach of the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, worked with another Chynoweth — Jeff’s brother Dean — as a part of Canada’s gold-medal squad at the 2004 World Junior Hockey championship.

So how does Pierce connect with Hulton?

Prior to his coaching days, Pierce played five seasons with Royal Military College (CIS) in Kingston, Ont., one campaign of which was under the tutelage of Hulton (2006-07).

Upon hearing of the head coaching vacancy in Cranbrook, Hulton called Dean who then called his brother Jeff and the rest is history, albeit recent history.

From Kingston to Merritt to Cranbrook, Pierce has travelled a long way, but obviously made lasting impressions with those whose paths he has crossed.

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Following the announcement of the hiring of Luke Pierce as the seventh head coach of the Kootenay Ice, assistant coach Jay Henderson informed president and general manager Jeff Chynoweth he would be resigning from his position.

Henderson’s contract was set to expire June 30 and Chynoweth had said on the record he hoped for Henderson’s return in 2015-16.

Henderson spent two seasons as an assistant coach under Ryan McGill (2013-14 and 2014-15).

The 36-year-old native of Edmonton, Alta., previously played for the Edmonton Ice (1996-97 and 1997-98), compiling 77 goals and 154 points in 138 career games with the franchise.

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Kootenay/Edmonton Ice head coaching history:

1996-97: Dave Siciliano (14-56-2, 30 points)1997-98: Dave Siciliano replaced by Ryan McGill midseason (17-49-6, 40 points)1998-99: Ryan McGill (30-35-7, 67 points)1999-00: Ryan McGill (44-14-11-3, 102 points, WHL championship)2000-01: Ryan McGill (45-17-4-6, 100 points)2001-02: Ryan McGill (38-27-7-0, 83 points, WHL championship & Memorial Cup)2002-03: Cory Clouston (36-25-6-5, 83 points)2003-04: Cory Clouston (32-30-7-3, 74 points)2004-05: Cory Clouston (47-15-7-3, 104 points)2005-06: Cory Clouston (45-23-1-3, 94 points)2006-07: Cory Clouston (49-17-3-3, 104 points)2007-08: Mark Holick (42-22-5-3, 92 points)2008-09: Mark Holick (35-29-2-6, 78 points)2009-10: Mark Holick (43-24-3-2, 91 points)2010-11: Kris Knoblauch (46-21-1-4, 97 points, WHL championship)2011-12: Kris Knoblauch (36-26-6-4, 82 points)2012-13: Ryan McGill (35-35-2-0, 72 points)2013-14: Ryan McGill (39-28-2-3, 83 points)2014-15: Ryan McGill (37-31-1-3, 78 points)