Posted by: Feldman
We'll put a wrap on the 2014-15 Austin Bruins season here on the blog tomorrow, but...
As was first reported here last night, Austin Bruins assistant coach Jamie Huffman has indeed resigned.
Here's the story from today's P-B, with comments from Huffman and head coach Chris Tok, who is still in place and will continue his duties until told otherwise from Bruins ownership.
The Bruins owners, Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper, issued a brief statement today:
Bruins assistant coach Jamie Huffman will not return to Austin next season.
Prior to the beginning of the 2014-15-season coach Huff told Bruins ownership that he would likely not be back for the 2015-16 season. Several weeks ago Huff confirmed that he would not be back and asked that we not announce his departure until the end of the season. We respected his wishes and did not announce that he was leaving until today.
In the three years that Huff has been the main recruiter for the Bruins he has been responsible for bringing in the talent that has brought us so much success.
The Austin Bruins organization wishes coach Huffman the best in all of his future endeavors.
Read into that what you will. It says nothing about Tok, who, as far as I can gather, has not been told if he'll be back or when or if he'll be let go. What I can tell you is that the relationship between the coaches and owners has been strained for some time, beyond just this season. That's pretty obvious, though, eh?
What we also know is that, if this team intends to be successful next season, it needs to make some decisions and make them fast.
The NAHL Draft is 20 days away. Summer tryout camps need to be organized and operated; on a list of team tryout camps on the NAHL website, the Bruins are the only team in the league not on the list. Dates for a final team tryout/veteran camp need to be put in stone sooner than later. The Bruins still have two tenders available to fill. That also means they have a half-dozen players signed to tenders, including Rochester Lourdes defenseman Griff Slightam, and I'm positive those players would very much like to know who their coach(es) will be.
If, in fact, there is going to be a coaching change in Austin, a new staff will have to scramble to make sure the current tenders are going to come to Austin (they can't play for any other team in the NAHL, but they're not bound to play in the league) and they need to get tryout camps going; they're behind every other team in the league in that regard.
On top of that, Tok will have little time to look for a coaching job, if he decides to stay in coaching.
The longer this drags out, the worse it is for the product that will be on the ice this fall. Attendance at Riverside this season dipped below the 1,000-per-game average for the first time since the team's inaugural season. It was a drop of 226 fans per game in the regular season (from 1,215 to 989) compared to last season. Over the course of 28 regular-season home games (not 30, because two of every team's "home" games are held at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, in September), that's more than 6,300 less fans. That's a lot of ticket revenue and concession stand revenue lost.
BRUINS AVERAGE ATTENDANCE
If the head coach -- whether it's Tok or someone new -- has little time to put together a team (kids are going to have 21 other NAHL tryouts to choose from, as well as USHL tryouts and some Tier III tryouts, such as the NA3HL), the team will be playing catch-up to the rest of the division. That's not an easy task, as we saw this season. Minot is improving every year. Bismarck had a "down" year and won't stay that way long. Aberdeen and Brookings gave the Bruins tough games every time they met, despite the S.D. teams not being as deep or talented.
Expectations have been set high in Austin. If the Bruins fall to the bottom of the division, what happens to attendance? Aberdeen finished fourth in the division standings this season, yet led the division in attendance at 1,419 fans per game. Will Riverside see that many if the Bruins are a sub-.500 team?
The point of this is, if the coaching situation isn't solved quickly, the on-ice product will suffer and the fans will, too.
Here are some more comments from Jamie Huffman and Chris Tok about Huffman's time with the Bruins and his departure:
"I'll miss the kids and I'll miss (Tok), too. He's really good at what he does and he gave me an opportunity I'll never forget. I'm most proud of those banners we hung. No one can ever -- ever -- take those away from us."
"I try to work hard and work with good people like (Tok) and I'm smart enough to know that I have to work even harder to keep up with them."
"It puts a smile on my face, even in the middle of a game, to look down by our locker room and see all those (former players) standing there. The bond we have ... we spend so much time together with them and hopefully have earned their respect."
"Jamie excels at numerous things, like getting more out of the players, the little things in practice. When they're doing drills, just the little things, telling them to go faster or push themselves more ... just the energy he brought to the rink every single day. He could be a gruff individual, but the players loved him."
"The name he's built for himself in recruiting and the resume he's built, it's all because he does his due diligence. He turned over every single rock on every single player to make sure he got the kids that were right for us."
"His favorite quote to recruits was always 'do your homework.' He meant do your homework on Chris Tok, ask other people. He would sell kids on our team, our program, but he wanted them to do their due diligence too.
"When players come here, they know we are pretty demanding. Our players know what they're getting into when they come here. I've read and heard player say that it sinks in and they appreciate it more once they're gone."
"Jamie put a lot of time in with the players. He was a huge part of that bridge between the players, the captains, and me."