By MIKE MASTOVICH
Frank Anzalone’s future as coach of the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs is in limbo.
In fact, indications are that Anzalone’s two-year tenure in Johnstown will end despite a 63-59-22 record and two straight playoff appearances.
“I’ve been in Tampa. The hockey operations situation is in the hands of (Lightning GM) Jay Feaster,” said Anzalone, who attended the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff game against visiting New Jersey on Monday night after meeting with Feaster for his year-end evaluation. “I don’t know 100 percent what they are or are not doing. Obviously I will be affected by hockey operations systems, whether I like it or not.”
Chiefs primary owner Jim Weber bluntly stated in interviews with The Tribune-Democrat that he will make changes prior to next season. While not publicly saying that Anzalone is out as coach, Weber left little room for interpretation in an interview that appeared in Sunday’s Tribune-Democrat, and he didn’t alter his stance on Tuesday.
“I’ve seen a lot of amazing things from Frank. What comes to mind, last year there were a couple clutch wins with only seconds on the clock, and this year the win we had to get ourselves in the playoffs at Reading. But the Johnstown Chiefs have to be a community organization where everyone feels like they belong,” Weber said. “I’m disappointed in myself that we have not been able to cross that barrier.
“After two years I’ve learned what the fans in Johnstown want and I’m going to do what is necessary to deliver that as long as we’re not compromising wins.”
Weber did not comment on whether Tampa Bay’s role with the Chiefs will change next season. The Lightning are a minority owner of the Chiefs and the NHL team handled nearly all player personnel moves.
The Chiefs and AHL’s Springfield Falcons developed Tampa Bay prospects. This is the second year of the ownership-affiliation between Johnstown and Tampa Bay.
The Lightning supplied a large group of players throughout the season. The downside was that the Chiefs often were left short as players were called up to Springfield, as is the case in any affiliation.
Despite injuries to key players such as Randy Rowe, Doug Andress, Brandon Elliott and P.J. Atherton, the Chiefs won five of their final seven games, including a dramatic victory at Reading in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff berth.
The Chiefs lost both games of a play-in series against Trenton.
“This new idea with Tampa was going to take some time,” Anzalone said. “It really hasn’t been that bad despite not being palatable to every fan. But I don’t know if anything is palatable to everybody anymore. I came here due to Tampa, which is what Jim Weber wanted at the time. I, like (Chiefs Vice President of Hockey Operations) Ryan Belec and the other guys, probably will fall under what Jim and Tampa decides.”
The Chiefs organization did an excellent job of preparing prospects for Springfield. Players such as David Spina, Stanislav Lascek and Jay Rosehill were called up and finished the season in the AHL. Others such as Rowe, Elliott, Atherton, Maxime Boisclair, Adam Henrich, Jean Desrochers and Radek Smolenak saw their share of time with the Falcons.
While such player movement is simply part of the developmental system, it often frustrates fans committed to their hometown team.
“My assessment of what’s happened in Johnstown, even through these difficult times of ‘who’s going up to Springfield and how long is he staying?’, a lot of people did a pretty good job,” Anzalone said. “It may not be what Jim wants or what Tampa wants.
“I went down to Tampa to assess the season and the program. Jay Feaster told me there are some areas that are being strongly discussed.”
Anzalone, one of only four ECHL coaches with 300 wins (332), has a home in Richland Township with his wife, Theresa, and son, Francis, who attends Pitt-Johnstown. The coach would like to stay in Johnstown, but he’s been on the bench since the 1980-81 season. Anzalone knows the business side of the game.
“I know I will be involved in the hockey operations decision,” Anzalone said. “I just don’t know what the final decision is going to be.”