Mike Busniuk says it’s not easy to step into a coaching position part way through a hockey season.
It’s even more difficult when you’re friends with the guy you’re replacing.
On Thursday the veteran coach, with 18 years of experience, mostly as an assistant in the American Hockey League, took the reins of the Lakehead Thunderwolves for the first time, taking over from the deposed Joel Scherban who was let go in his fourth season of service.
“When something happens like that to a good friend, it really is difficult and obviously you have reservations as to what you should be doing,” said Busniuk, 60, who served two seasons as an assistant under Scherban.
“That’s what happens when you’re coaching. I’ve been in this business for 18 years and I’ve seen all kinds of different things happen. We’re used to this sort of thing happening, not that we want to get used to it, but that’s just what happens in hockey."
The Thunder Bay native said he was a shocked as anyone when he got the call from Lakehead athletic director Tom Warden, asking him if he’d take over coaching the team on an interim basis. Busniuk, who has agreed to coach the team this weekend and beyond, said he had no idea a move was afoot to remove Scherban from his position.
“And I’m normally pretty good in the dressing room. I can feel things. After 18 years of being a coach, you can feel what the dressing room is like. But I had no idea. I was at work when I got the news and I said, no, someone must be joking,” he said. “I was really shocked, I didn’t see any of this coming.”
But this was no laughing matter.
Scherban was let go for what team officials deemed internal issues, problems neither management nor the players would speak when pressed after the news broke.
Captain Adam Sergerie wished his former coach well, thanking him for the time he put into the organization during the player’s four years with the team.
“It’s been, I guess, a roller-coaster day,” said Sergerie, whose team lost 6-3 on home ice to York last weekend, the catalyst for Scherban’s departure.
“I guess it is what it is now … He showed a tremendous work ethic and obviously the organization made a decision and as a hockey team we support it.”
The players, who may or may not have held a closed-door meeting amongst themselves ahead of Thursday’s firing, are trying to avoid the spotlight and concentrate solely on hockey as they get set to hit the road this weekend for Kitchener-Waterloo and dates with Laurier and Waterloo.
“As players we’re to show up to the rink and if coach stresses something, our job is to go out and execute. As far as Xs and Os, that’s not our decision."
Sergerie wouldn’t comment on dressing-room chemistry.
“Questions like that, that’s something that Tom Warden would have to answer. Tom would definitely be the man to answer that,” he said in carefully rehearsed fashion.
Sergerie was also the only player who would speak to media on Thursday.
Busniuk, who spent two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers as a player, said the good news is the players appear to have the jump back in their skates, judging by his first practice as head coach.
“I thought today was the best practice they’ve ever had and they’re ready to go. I don’t know what was going on outside or inside with all the politics and all the other stuff that went on, but they seem like they’re ready to me.”
Wolves fans will get their first opportunity next weekend to see Busniuk in action when Lakehead (3-1-0) welcomes archrival Western to Fort William Gardens.
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