Just like so many of the Johnstown Chiefs’ player recalls throughout the long ECHL season, popular and successful head coach Ian Herbers’ pending departure is great news for the man involved but certainly will be difficult on Chiefs fans craving a sustained playoff run.
One can’t help but feel good for the likeable Herbers, who will be named an assistant coach of the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals on Monday.
The Chiefs alerted the local media of a scheduled 2 p.m. press conference that afternoon about a “major announcement regarding team personnel.”
No one in the Chiefs organization publicly would confirm that Herbers landed a job that opened on July 23 when the NHL’s Ottawa Senators hired Brad Lauer as an assistant coach. Lauer had been an assistant with Milwaukee the past two seasons.
But multiple sources have confirmed that Herbers has coached his final game with the Chiefs.
The opportunity is excellent for Herbers, who built a winner with class and honesty while coaching under difficult circumstances.
His Chiefs had success even though the team’s future almost constantly seemed in doubt, beginning only weeks after Herbers’ hiring in June 2007.
Not so reassuring for the Chiefs, who now must scramble to find a coach just about two months before training camp. By all accounts, Herbers, who went 73-60-11 and won one playoff series, has signed a solid foundation for next season.
He discussed as much with the media during an appearance at the Ferndale Jubilee last month and had fans pumped up during his address at the season ticket holder Town Hall Meeting at Aces later that night. At that time, Herbers was prepared to stay in Johnstown for another season and he seemed determined to make up for his team’s missing the playoffs by one point in April.
Then came Lauer’s hiring by the Senators. The situation changed.
It appears Herbers received an offer too good to refuse. Herbers couldn’t be reached for comment.
Players who already have signed contracts technically are obligated to play for the Chiefs should they stick in the ECHL. But a coach’s departure might affect just how enthusiastic those players are about staying here. That’s why the Chiefs must fill the void as quickly as possible with a reputable name. And, they must do so at the figurative 11th hour.
As for the Admirals, they’ve got themselves a good one.
In addition to his 12-year pro career as a player, Herbers has proven himself as a coach who can recruit and motivate. He was a solid ECHL head coach and most certainly will be a capable AHL assistant with the long-term potential to advance in that league and perhaps, eventually, the NHL.
The promotion is well-deserved by Herbers. True Chiefs fans will wish him well. Those same fans also can’t be blamed for feeling just a bit apprehensive.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.