The Komets have their next head coach -- Ben Boudreau.
Boudreau, 34, spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach under Gary Graham, who was fired May 13 after six ECHL seasons in which he accumulated a 251-130-51 record, appearances in the playoffs every year and guided the Komets to two Western Conference finals.
Boudreau is the son of former Komets player and coach Bruce Boudreau, currently the head coach of the NHL's Minnesota Wild.
Ben Boudreau is the first person hired to coach the Komets without previous head-coaching experience since Al Sims was elevated from player/assistant in 1989 -- before the Franke family took over ownership of the team.
“Growing up in a hockey family with my father as a head coach and two younger brothers who both got coaching jobs in hockey, as well, I'm submersed with people around me in this job,” Ben Boudreau said. “One thing that you can't do is try to be somebody else; you've got to be true to who you are and what you believe in.”
Boudreau said recently a lack of head-coaching experience wouldn't be a problem if hired, citing the bevy of experience he had assisting championship-winning coaches. He's worked under Robbie Ftorek, who won a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League; Eric Veilleux, who won a Memorial Cup in juniors; Southern Professional Hockey League Cup-winning coaches in Graham and Rod Aldoff; and other experienced coaches such as longtime NHL player Robert Dirk.
Under Graham, Boudreau was charged with managing the defensemen and had a hand in special teams, considered weak points of last season's team that lost to Toledo in six games during the first round of the playoffs. It's unclear how much of the blame for the personnel and Xs and Os should fall at his feet, but Boudreau said “it would be ignorant” to shift all the culpability to Graham.
“Ultimately, as the head coach, you've got to wear the crown and you get the consequences -- whether they've good or bad. When you get the final say, when you make the final decisions, it's up to the head coach to make sure you have what you need and you're also looking for help, influence and information from the assistants,” Boudreau said.
“My job was to support Gary with whatever he needed -- whether it was looking up guys, recruiting guys, or supplying information -- so we were all in it together. There's no question. It would be very ignorant to say I wasn't a part of that.”
Komets general manager David Franke declined throughout the interview process to name any of the other head-coaching candidates. However, The Journal Gazette confirmed that two who made it deeply into the process were Richard Matvichuk and Scott Hillman.
Matvichuk, 46, played 919 NHL games with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars and the New Jersey Devils. He was part of Dallas' 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team.
He was an assistant coach with the Allen Americans from 2012 to 2014, when they won two Central Hockey League championships. He was selected the ECHL's Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year in 2016, after his second season with the Missouri Mavericks. He became coach of the junior-level Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars in 2016 and was fired midway through this season.
Hillman, 45, a longtime player in the Central Hockey League, coached the SPHL's Knoxville Ice Bears to championships in 2008 and 2009. He coached the Mavericks from 2009 to 2014, making the playoffs every season. He was the Indy Fuel's first coach and with the Fuel from 2014 to 2016. Last summer, he was behind Norwegian team Frisk Asker's signing away of Shawn Szydlowski and Garrett Thompson from the Komets, though he was fired in December from the eventual championship team.
The Frankes had never hired a coach without previous head-coaching experience -- unless you include the short stint of Colin Chin and Derek Ray as interim co-coaches in 1994-95 after Bruce Boudreau was fired -- and this had been the most intensive coaching search since Pat Bingham was hired in 2006. That's because the Komets knew who they wanted the subsequent hires -- Sims, who was brought back by the team in 2007, and Graham, who had been Sims' protégé and was hired in 2012.
Asked what style of play he wants from whichever coach is hired, David Franke said last week: “The Komet philosophy that we want a hard-skating team, a physical-style team, yet we still want to be able incorporate speed with our club. We think that's very, very important. Goaltending will be a top issue for us, too.”
Ben Boudreau had spent five seasons as an assistant in the ECHL with Bakersfield, Norfolk and Fort Wayne.