Trent Cull guided Sudbury to the second round in 2 of his 3 seasons (OHL Images)
It is owner Mark Burgess’ puck with the Sudbury Wolves, so the power struggle had to end this way, with a good coach in Trent Cull returning from whence he came.
Since Sudbury isn’t the highest-profile team in the OHL, talk of internal discord between Cull and Wolves management mostly stayed within the local media and the message boards. Now that Cull, who seemed to have the Wolves on a good track after guiding a youngish team to the league quarter-final last season, is leaving with a year left on his contract for an AHL assistant coach job with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s affiliate, it’s all come spilling out.
From Bruce Heidman (@bheidmanSS):
In what came as little surprise to those who follow the team, Paul Fixter, who was announced as the team’s associate coach mere weeks ago, will take over the head coaching duties in what appears to be a predetermined move.
The relationship between Cull, team president and GM Blaine Smith and owner Mark Burgess was on thin ice much of last season, especially after Burgess’ son, Connor, was placed on the team.
The parties even resorted to taking veiled shots at each other in local media until the relationship ended Wednesday. (@bheidmanSS)
Does that make this Cull’s Independence Day?
It’s easy to say this now, but throughout last season, having 16-year-old Connor Burgess on the team seemed like the tip of the iceberg that people were understandably reluctant to touch. Having the coach, general manager and/or owner’s son is hardly novel in junior hockey — Kerby and GM Warren Rychel with the Windsor Spitfires, Scott and president Gord Simmonds with the Belleville Bulls, to name two contemporary examples. Only people who saw Connor Burgess (no goals, one assist in 28 games) play on a regular basis can say for sure whether it was nepotism to put him on the Wolves as a 16-year-old instead of sending him to a lower-tier league. There’s a gut feeling there might be a few Wolves fans willing to go there.
Then Sudbury went and hired a new coach, apparently without consulting Cull. They also lost assistant coach David Bell to a division rival, the Niagara IceDogs.
Needless to say, this should not be viewed as completely one-sided. Sudbury’s spin could easily be that Cull’s goal is to be a NHL coach and he simply let for a better opportunity in a familiar environment (Cull played his final two seasons in Syracuse and had a four-year run as an assistant coach when the Crunch were with the Columbus Blue Jackets).
From Lindsay Kramer (@PScrunchhockey):
Cull said he had another year left on his contract with that team but was so anxious to work with Tampa Bay he resigned from the Wolves [on Wednesday] morning. And he doesn’t see going back to a job he’s already held as a step down.
“Some people might view this as a sidestep. I don’t,” Cull said Wednesday night. “This is the next step in my career. I think this is the right thing for me right now. I’m going to learn from great people. This is one of the best opportunities that has come my way in a long time. I’m really excited to be part of the Tampa Bay organization.” (Syracuse Post-Standard)
The Wolves were 94-88-11-11 (.515 point pct.) across Cull’s three seasons and also won the Junior Club World Cup in Omsk, Russia last August. The record might not look like much, but Sudbury made midseason moves in both 2011 (trading John McFarland) and ’13 (the six-player swap that sent stars Josh Leivo and Frank Corrado to Kitchener) and went on to win a playoff round as the lower-seeded team each time.
Fixter will at least have some familiarity with his new team, since overage goalie Franky Palazzese, defenceman Cory Genovese and sophomore centre Matt Schmalz were in Kitchener last season. Pushing out a coach might not sit well, but a successful season will disperse the bad vibes. That doesn’t put any pressure to win now on Fixter at all, does it?
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.