Lakehead University athletic director Tom Warden is remaining tight-lipped about the internal issues that led to Thursday’s firing of veteran hockey coach Joel Scherban.
Warden said the issues came to a head this week and left the OUA team with no choice but to release Scherban from his coaching contract, which the school had extended just last spring.
“We felt that the best direction at this time was to relieve Joel of his responsibilities. Like I said, it was a very difficult decision.”
Pressed for more details, Warden balked.
“That’s a valid question, and my response, you’re probably not going to like. But it’s an internal issue and it’s an issue I’m not prepared to discuss at this time. It’s something that is private and stays within Thunderwolves hockey,” he said.
Asked if the players walked out of practice on Tuesday, as sources have told tbnewswatch.com, Warden would not comment. The team cancelled practice on Wednesday.
“As I said, these are internal issues. I think at this point, and with this decision moving forward, we will be in a position to achieve our goals. As far as that issue goes, I’d like to keep that internal.”
Taking over the Thunderwolves reins on an interim basis is assistant coach Mike Busniuk, a former NHLer and 16-year assistant coach in the American Hockey League, mostly with Binghampton. Busniuk, a recent inductee into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, was not immediately available to comment as he oversaw his first practice as the Wolves new coach.
Scherban, who was in his fourth season with Lakehead, a team he’d guided to an 81-49 record, including three wins in four games to start the 2012-13 season, released a statement that was handed to media by team officials.
“I am both surprised and disappointed that I will not be continuing in my role as head coach,” Scherban wrote, days after it appeared his team quit on him in a brutal 6-3 loss to York last weekend at Fort William Gardens.
“I have worked tirelessly over the past three-and-a-half years to help the players achieve their individual and team goals, both in the classroom and on the ice.”
Brought in to take the reins after Don McKee was let go following the 2008-09 season, Scherban promptly led Lakehead into nationals on home ice, earning a spot despite having an automatic berth as hosts.
But his playoff success ended there. They were swept in the opening round in 2011 and last winter, after winning the second-round opener on the road against Windsor, dropped two straight for a second consecutive early exit.
Warden said they did try to find a solution that made everyone happy.
“I would like you to know that we worked tirelessly to look at ways of not being in this situation. A lot of people offered their help and their expertise. We are here only because this was the only solution that we felt was going to move us forward,” Warden said, adding nonetheless it was a unanimous decision by the privately owned and operated team’s board of directors and Lakehead officials.
“Please understand this was not something that was done lightly or without research or without working very hard to find a solution.”
Busniuk takes the team on the road to Kitchener-Waterloo this weekend, where the Wolves will take on both Waterloo and Laurier, before heading home next weekend to take on arch-rival Western.
Warden said how long Busniuk, a teacher at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, remains in the position will be decided at a later date, and said there are no immediate plans to seek out a permanent replacement for Scherban, the Wolves all-time point leader and former captain.
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