The SHL coaching merry-go-round continues. Last month, Martin Delorme left the Michigan Gray Wolves to become coach of the expansion Quebec Tigres. Now, the Gray Wolves have now hired Hamilton Pistols head coach Ron Wright to replace Delorme.
“Needless to say, we’re thrilled,” said Michigan GM Tim Carrier. “Martin obviously left big shoes to fill, but Ron is more than capable of filling them. He’s the kind of experienced, smart, hard-working coach we’re looking for. Ron Wright is a perfect fit with the Gray Wolves organization.”
The 62-year-old Wright has over 35 years of coaching experience, largely at the college level. He is a defense-first coach, which makes him a good match with the Michigan roster. At his introductory press conference on Friday, Wright seemed almost giddy about the chance to work with such a squad.
“Whenever we’d play against [the Gray Wolves], I’d just be fascinated,” said Wright. “They were so tough, ferocious and disciplined at the same time, just something to behold. I’d show my guys game film of them and I’d say, ‘We should be more like these guys.’ The idea that I’d be coaching these guys, the ones I’d held up as our model… I never even dreamed that.”
In addition to his reputation as a brilliant tactician, Wright is also known as a hard-nosed disciplinarian. That latter quality led to multiple run-ins between the coach and his players in Hamilton, where he guided the Pistols to a 22-35-3 record last season. There was also considerable friction between Wright and the Hamilton front office, and the coach was given permission to pursue other openings in the offseason.
“That was a tough situation all around,” admitted Wright. “I could have done some things better; so could they. My eyes are on the future and what we can achieve here in Michigan.”
The Gray Wolves started their inaugural season strong, bolting out to a 13-3-2 start. But they were passed and ultimately beaten by the powerhouse Anchorage Igloos. Despite finishing with the second-best record in the league, Michigan didn’t make it to the playoffs. Given that Anchorage is strong on both ends of the ice, many observers figured that the Gray Wolves would need to become a more balanced team in order to contend. Wright, however, said that he intends to double down on defense.
“This is a grind-it-out, hard-checking, hard-nosed team,” said Wright. “Why mess with that identity? We are who we are. Who has a better defense than us? Nobody. Who has a better goalie than the Bear [Dirk Lundquist]? Nobody. That’s our foundation and our identity, and that’s what we’re going to build on.”
Igloos coach Sam Castor welcomed his new rival by sending a case of Vernor’s ginger ale to Wright with a note that read, “Welcome to the Wild West. Look forward to beating you! Warmest regards, Sam.” Asked about Wright’s hiring, Castor smiled and said, “I love it! Ron’s a great coach, and I’m sure he’ll do a great job. If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. Next year’s going to be fun.”
Pistols owner Cory Blackwood, Jr. wished Wright well, saying: “Ronnie’s got what we wanted, and I’m not going to begrudge that. I expect we’ll be just fine next season.”
It’s not known who the Pistols are targeting as Wright’s replacement. Blackwood said only that he was looking for a coach who was “in it for the long haul. I don’t want to be having to look for another guy next year.”