With the Thousand Islands Privateers hoping for a fresh start in the city of Watertown, team owner Nicole Kirnan didnt have to look far to find a new coach.
Paul Kelly, who concluded his playing career as a player/coach with the Privateers last season, is now the clubs new head coach, the team announced at a press conference Thursday at the Best Western.
Im really truly honored to embark on this new journey, Kelly said. Obviously its my first jump into the coaching world. Ive been around, Ive played for seven years and I know the strain that coaches take on Ive seen some go gray pretty quick but Im really excited about it.
Kelly, who also served as team captain last season, led Thousand Islands through a trying season and to the second round of the Federal Hockey League playoffs.
Ive always wanted to be a coach and stay in hockey, said Kelly, a 31-year-old native of West Peabody, Mass. Once this opportunity was presented to me, I couldnt turn it down.
We had a ton of interest in the job from around the world, Kirnan said at the press conference, which was attended by Mayor Jeffrey Graham and FHL commissioner Don Kirnan. But its important to get the right person who knows this team and is familiar with the community. I think its a natural step because he did so well last year in a coaching and playing role, which is tough to do.
The promotion of Kelly is at the heart of the franchises strategy for the upcoming campaign as the team also announced the re-signing of four Privateers, including forward Adam McAllister and goalie Matt Anthony, who attended the press conference, as well as forward Chase Tippin and defenseman Nick Williams.
For Kelly, the choice to join the pro coaching ranks was a simple one, since he wanted to remain in the game of hockey at some level.
It was intriguing, Kelly said of the job opening. Its tough for a guy to hang up his skates, I know when we get to the first game, Im going to want to be out there. I just felt this was a good time to take the next step in the game, because I always wanted to be around this game for the rest of my life and coaching is how Im going to stay in it.
The Privateers, a charter member of the A level FHL, will be entering their third season, which begins in late October.
I got to know Paul pretty well last year, Anthony said. I know what he wants and expects from guys he demands the best so we should be a well-disciplined team in the execution of our systems and in people doing their jobs because he demands it.
Kelly was elevated to player/coach status after last seasons coach, Marc LeFebvre, along with 14 players, forfeited their jobs when they refused to play a game in early February in protest of the leagues handling of a incident involving the teams then chief rival, the Akwesasne Warriors.
Kelly was one of only five players including McAllister, Anthony, Tippen and Brad Smulders who didnt join the boycott and remained with the Privateers, leading the team to a second-place finish and to the second round of the playoffs.
It was way too stressful, Kelly said of his time as a player/coach. Youre in the locker room as a player and then you have to be a coach of the players youre playing with. Its good if youre a player and an assistant coach, because you just have to talk to guys, but to set the rules and be a player as well is tough. Last year was a good experience and now Im going to take that next step.
Now as head coach, Kelly believes this experience created a bond between those remaining Privateers players, in which he hopes will carry over into next season.
Obviously last year didnt work out as well as we wanted it to, Kelly said. We didnt make the finals, but we had a good regular season. We still have a lot of unfinished business from last year. This year we want to bring not just one or two tough guys we want team toughness all over the ice.
Thousand Islands 2012-13 season schedule is expected to be released next week and the team will announce additional player signings in the coming weeks.
We have a really close-knit group of players coming back, Kirnan said. And thats key because were going to ask a lot of them besides playing hockey, theyre going to be out there in the community helping out at various events.
The team announced that season tickets are now on sale at $299 each (with a special discount voucher on team apparel) and can be purchased by calling 382-5656 or visiting www.1000islandsprivateers.net.