The Grande Prairie Storm have the foundation for what board members believe will be a winning team in the near future. They backed up their beliefs last week with the announcement of the re-signing of coach and general manager Blaine Bablitz, to a new two-year contract.
Storm executive chairman Darrell Radbourne said it was not a matter of if, but rather, when, in regards to Bablitz re-signing with the Alberta Junior Hockey League franchise.
“We started the process at the end of February,” said Radbourne. “In principle, all the major points, all the major items were discussed and agreed upon by the end of February, first part of March. It just took us this long to get the final details in place because he (Bablitz) was very busy with playoffs and with all the spring camps. We just could not get together.
“We feel this is the right direction to go. At the board level there was very little discussion on ‘are we going down the right road’. He is a very good hockey mind and has brought a lot to the table. When you can go from seventh place (21-39 record, 2011-2012) and in one year move all the way up to second place (35-21-4 record 2012-2013) in a very, very tough North Division, that tells something of the individual. We are very, very happy to have him back for another two years.”
Radbourne said at no time was there any consideration from the board’s perspective to go any route other than re-signing Bablitz.
“We didn’t really ever go looking anywhere else,” said Radbourne. “We had the local candidate, local individual, who had played with the Storm in the past, and it seemed to be a nice fit for us still. Yes, there are always discussions around the table, but the board did not look at any other options seriously at any time (during the renewal process).”
The board recognized the challenges faced by Bablitz and the coaching staff, not only with the injuries and departures from the team during the 2012-2013 campaign, but also the timing of those injuries and departures.
“We felt that we had a very good regular season, even with the adversity that he had to deal with after Dec. 1,” said Radbourne. “With our captain (Taylor Cote) being out for the rest of the year, our second top scorer (Marc-Etienne Drapeau) being accepted into pharmacy (thereby leaving the team) and also with (Sam) Lawson having personal and concussion issues, when you take those three guys out, there's a top line on just about any AJHL team. You take that out of the equation, after December 1, when your cards are locked in …. we felt that (Bablitz) did an exceptional job.”
In this “what have you done for me lately” world, Radbourne said what Bablitz has done with the team in the past two years is the reason for his renewal. Now it’s time to maintain those regular season standards and excel in the post-season.
Whereas the Storm made significant strides in the regular season this season, they were ousted in the first round of the AJHL playoffs for the third straight season in 2012-2013, losing to the Sherwood Park Crusaders in four games.
When it comes time for renewal of Bablitz’s contract again in two years’ time, playoff success will play a major role in the process.
“The expectations from the board now are for the team to take that next step,” said Radbourne. “We need to get into that second, third and fourth round in the near future.
“All the GMs and coaches in the AJHL, I am sure all their monetary rewards are based on going deep in the playoffs, so he (Bablitz) wants it as much as anybody.”