Green Was ‘Ready’ to Coach Comets in Inaugural Season
Ten American Hockey League seasons back, Travis Green was ready to coach the Utica Comets.
"I was ready for it," recalls Green of his being named the Comets' first coach for the 2013-14 season. " We (Comets) didn't get off to the the kind of start we hoped for, but by the second half of the season the team was dominant."
Green, is on the coaching sidelines these days; after more than a dozen hockey seasons. After coaching in Utica during the club's first four seasons, Green was promoted by the Vancouver Canucks to lead their National Hockey League troops for the following five campaigns. During a recent trip that took the former NHL center from flights departing, first, from British Columbia, that would eventually transport him to the final leg of his journey in Orange County, California - where home is, Green reminisced about his first season coaching in Utica..
No longer under contract to Vancouver, sitting out from hockey is unfamiliar territory for the hockey lifer.
"I have to be patient. But, I'm hungry to get back," explains Green, who began his NHL skating days as the number two draft pick by the New York Islanders in 1989. " This is the first time in my coaching days that I was fired."
Coming to the Comets was a process that is still a very clear, and pleasant memory for Green. In total, Green recalls four separate interviews, before receiving an offer to pilot the Canucks' then AHL affiliate in Central New York. As the NHL Draft was taking place at New Jersey's Prudential Center, so was Green's coaching resume in play.
"They (Canucks) were very thorough, " says Green of the Vancouver management team in search of a coach. " Originally, I met with Loren (Loren Henning - assistant general manager/director of player personnel). Then I met with Laurence (Laurence Gilman - assistant general manager/ vice president of hockey operations). We had a follow up visit in Vancouver. I believe there were four candidates for the job, then down to two."
Prior to being named the Comets' first coach, the previous season (2012-13), Green took over midway through the Western Hockey League season to guide the Portland Winterhawks. As the interim bench boss, being elevated from assistant coach with 47 games left on the regular schedule, Green directed his club to a 37-8-0-2 record. Portland captured the WHL Championship.
Just months later, with improvements ongoing at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, Green, like hockey fans in the Mohawk Valley, was excited about the many changes taking place. However, before talking about any of the 45 skaters and three goalies that made up the inaugural Green-led Comets team, the coach steers the conversation to the individual most responsible for professional hockey returning to the City of Utica.
"I can't say enough about the amazing job Rob ( team president Robert Esche) did in putting together everything about the team."
As Green remembers, being in a new city, and all the excitement that went along with the players who most never played alongside each other prior to coming to Utica, also came a slow start to the season.
Although the Comets tallied 79 points for the 76 games played in 2013-14 (Comets missed the playoffs), it wasn't until their eleventh game of the season that they gained their first victory. It was on November 8, 2013 in Cleveland, the Comets came away with a 3-2 win over the Lake Erie Monsters to break a 10-game winless streak.
As for Green's assistant coaches during year-one of the Comets, Nolan Baumgartner and Paul Jerrard , like the players, it took time for the staff to jell.
"The three of us only briefly met and talked, before coming to Utica. But, we all became good friends."
Travel, be it by bus or air, wasn't anything new for Green when joining up for a job in the AHL. The great distances traveled in the WHL, and his past experiences in the NHL, what was offered in the AHL didn't "bother" Green. However, the time separating Green, based in Western Canada, from his family remaining in Southern California was challenging.
Before arriving in Utica to coach, Green skated in the Islanders' system for their then AHL affiliate in Troy, New York (Capital District Islanders) for three seasons. His memories of skating in The Aud remain vague. He remembers being in The Aud a couple of times.
As Green maneuvers his way through the airport, his usual quiet, monotone voice perks up a notch when reviewing the roster he guided.
"Alex Biega has had a pretty good career. Cal O'Reilly turned out to be a good captain. Henrik Tommernes is another career that I continue to follow that started for me in Utica," said Green.
Since his parting ways with the Canucks nearly one year ago, Green remains positive that a second opportunity to coach an NHL club is in the cards for him. Part of his upbeat attitude comes from when remembering one of his former coaches - Hockey Hall of Famer Al Arbour. As Green is quick to point out, the late coaching giant that steered the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the 1980's didn't succeed until his second try.
It was after Arbour's failings in leading the St. Louis Blues from the bench, and an opportunity opened with the Islanders to coach, and things then began to turn around in the right direction for the coaching great. Green believes he learned so much during his run with the Canucks that a second hire for him as an NHL coach would be more successful.
Getting through the tough patches, as Green labels losing, is something that he believes will be navigated better with the next job he is offered. He has come close in getting another NHL coaching position since departing from Vancouver.
So much personal success, as Green has seen his career as a coach rocket up since beginning in Utica, is credited to the fans of Utica hockey. The amazing sell-out crowds, the transformation of the ADK Center, the total buy-in of the community with Comets hockey sticks with Green with all the stubbornness of duct tape.
With all his success in the NHL as both a skater and coach, prior to and after season one of the Comets, for Green to remain as passionate and detailed about his coming to Utica is nothing less than amazing.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.