Saunts hangs up the whistle

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The search to replace men’s hockey coach Blaine Sautner is underway

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

Move over, Blaine Sautner. There’s a new bench boss in town.

The University of Regina men’s hockey team is about to have a new voice barking orders as the head coaching position for the squad officially becomes available on Friday.

Saunter first came to the U of R in 2005, after enjoying a nine-year stint in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League as everything from a coach to a general manager.

Although Sautner racked up an impressive 135-72-32 record with the Battleford’s North Stars from 2001 to 2005 as the team’s head coach, he never had the same success at the CIS level that he did in junior A.

While Sautner will go down as third in the school’s history books with 66 conference wins, his best result with the Cougars was a surprising conference semifinal berth in 2009. Since then, things have gone downhill fast.

This year, Cougars had another disappointing season, finishing with a 5-20-3 record and, for the second time in a row, were the only team in Canada West that failed to make the playoffs.

Sautner – who has been coaching the Cougars for the past seven years – announced his retirement following the team’s last game of the season, a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Saskatchewan Huskies.

“Blaine has been an outstanding member of our coaching staff,” said U of R Athletics Director Dick White upon hearing of Sautner’s retirement. “We wish him the best in his future endeavours.”

Although White was very thankful for the effort Sautner has put into the club over the past seven years, he admitted the announcement of his retirement was quite surprising.

“I always tend to look at individuals staying with us to continue to help the program,” White said. “I didn’t lose my confidence that Blaine was someone that could do that.”

While the Cougars cracked the playoffs four times during Sautner’s seven-year tenure with the school, the disappointment of ending the past two seasons early did not sit well with fans, players, and apparently himself.

However, despite the team’s lack luster record, the roster has incredible potential and is one of the main reasons the position has already been attracting numerous people to apply.

In order to stir up some more interest, the U of R decided to place an ad on Saskjobs.ca, obviously so that only the most suitable applicants would apply.

Due to the unique choice of marketing the position, White has received a lot of interest in the job.

In fact, a list of 36 applicants was originally compiled, a number that White was able to narrow to the top 10 last week.

One person whose name many people are hoping made the short list is Curtis Hunt, former bench boss of the Regina Pats and former assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators.

Rumours began swirling that Hunt could be in line for the job after he appeared on-air with Rod Pedersen on CJME’s SportsCage. During his time on the show, Pedersen started the “Hunt to coach the Regina Cougars” campaign and fans instantly started buzzing.

Unfortunately, White was unable to comment on whether there was any truth to the rumour that Hunt was on the list.

“There is a need for this to be somewhat confidential,” White said. “Because all of these people have other jobs and if they are seeking our job we don’t want to compromise anything that they are currently doing. One of the candidates is going to get the job.”

In order to make sure he is picking the right person for the position, White has enlisted a group of people to help him with the process.

Members of the decision committee include the captain of the men’s hockey team, Russ Nielson, the women’s hockey team head coach Sarah Hodges, and Harold Reimer, an associate dean for the faculty of kinesiology and health studies.

“Well, we have a committee of people who I value their input,” White said. “Ultimately, it will fall on my desk but I will take a recommendation forward to the dean as well. I very much value the input from the committee and I am hopeful that we will reach a consensus at the committee level on a candidate.”

While every committee member is looking for slightly different qualities in the new head coach, White is looking for someone who is quite well-rounded.

“It’s to be able to coach not only at the tactical and technical level but it’s a whole program management exercise as well,” he said. “With everything from recruitment to fundraising to everything involved with the management of a program, it isn’t just on the ice coaching. It is a very complete job.”

Having Nielson on the committee is a huge asset. He knows firsthand what a player at the U of R needs from a coach and he will undoubtedly play a large role in the final decision.

“I am hoping Russ represents [what the other players think],” White admitted. “It isn’t the kind of thing that Russ can run around looking for approval from all of the other athletes. I hope what Russ brings is the athlete’s perspective and he has done that very well so far.

“We can’t involve 25 athletes, but we do very much value our athletes’ perspective to select and he has been very helpful so far.”

Whether it is Hunt that ends of being the new head coach, or someone else, fans and players are going to expect instant results during the coaches first year behind the Cougars bench.

Everyone surrounding the Cougars organization is dying to get back to the playoffs and White hopes that a change in the coaching position will lead to a playoff berth for next year’s squad.

“Absolutely, there is no question,” he said. “Whether Blaine was there [or not], none of us are ever satisfied when we don’t get to a position where we are competing with the best in Canada West. That is the goal for every team.”

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