BONNYVILLE – Big things are coming for the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs hockey club in the 2022-23 season.
After parting ways with former head coach Rick Swan last month, the local Jr. A club now has some big skates to fill.
The organization’s board of directors made the decision to capitalize on skill sets already within the club, hiring two current Pontiacs staff members to carry out the duties of the Pontiacs’ general manager in associate roles.
Moving forward, the Pontiacs’ Assistant General Manager Neil Langridge and Director of Player Personnel Chad Nelson will work together as Associate General Managers for the Jr. A organization.
Langridge is now the Associate General Manager of Business, while Nelson will fill the role of Associate General Manager of Hockey Operations.
“It just provides us more resources to hopefully hit all sides of the business a little better,” Nelson told Lakeland This Week.
Swan previously handled both the duties of a general manager as well as the head coach.
Meanwhile, Langridge transitioned from the Jr. A team’s scout in 2014 to assistant coach. By 2019, his duties expanded to include the roles of assistant general manager and eventually the director of business operations.
With almost eight years under his belt, Langridge is also optimistic about what lies ahead for the team and the successes the organization has already achieved.
“Having the privilege to work under and alongside Rick Swan for the past seven years has not only taught me a tremendous amount, but it has prepared me for the next steps on continuing to build on the great foundation that has been laid,” said Langridge, in a statement.
He added his gratitude to the community, who has rallied behind the Jr. A team through the highs and lows the team has faced over the last 30 years.
“We owe it to this community and all those involved to continue to strive for success on and off the ice.”
From scout to associate GM
During Nelson’s five-year history with the Pontiacs’ organization, he has been responsible for travelling across North America to scout and recruit prospective players.
Although Nelson will continue to travel and scout for new talent, he will also be responsible for more decision making within the organization.
“The biggest change now will be, in a partnership with Neil Langridge, overseeing all areas of the hockey operations and the business side as well," said Nelson.
The restructuring of the organization roles and duties will allow the new head coach to focus on the players and everyday team operations.
“It's really difficult to do a bunch of scouting and recruiting,” he said. “By separating the roles, you can have a head coach who can focus on the day-to-day work, while the general manager can still travel to cities and travel throughout North America and scout and recruit kids and build connections for the program.”
This will mean that Nelson will now have a greater presence in the community and will assist on the business side of the organization alongside Langridge and the team’s new head coach, who has yet to be selected.
The search for the perfect fit
Nelson says moving into the year ahead, the club will be focused on development.
“Making sure the infrastructure, the resources are here for the players to develop because it's extremely competitive and a lot of teams now have a lot of money backing them,” he emphasized.
“As a community owned team, we have to be very efficient with our resources. This way we can make sure that our hockey alignment – from the players that we bring in, to the way we coach them, to the way we teach them, to the systems we play – are all in line and in tune.”
Being a former Pontiac player himself, Nelson says it his goal to build the local team into an elite organization within the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“To grow the Pontiac brand is something I don't take lightly, and hopefully we can get us in an even greater tier of player talent and allow the organization to grow throughout America and bring people here that have the same values that we are looking for in a player and a person.”
Together, Langridge and Nelson will be hiring the next head coach. The goal is to have a decision made by June 1, he says.
Pontiacs’ president speaks to future of the Jr. A Pontiacs
Ron Rusnak, the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs’ board of director’s president, told Lakeland This Week that the discussions to hire a new head coach for the team had been ongoing among the board for a while.
“It's just been a lot of the same for several years now. And the board was getting to the point where either we stay continuing, doing the same, or we make the change to see if we can get better by changing directions and leadership,” stated Rusnak.
“Although the players are playing well... with a change of leadership, we're hoping that the players will excel just that one step further. They seem to be in the same rut. We don't have anything against Rick, he has done very well for our organization. He's built a great organization for us here in Bonnyville.”
For the last three years, the Pontiacs’ have maintained a similar standing, falling from the season early in the playoffs.
Rusnak also expressed the board would like to see Pontiacs players getting drafted straight into the NHL, citing examples of Jr. A players from Sherwood Park and Okotoks picked for the NHL.
“We are trying to get the players to grow and be at the point where they get selected to go to NCAA schools in Division I, where they can go on and further their education and extend their hockey careers and potentially, maybe make it to the NHL.”
In April, nearly 200 hockey players attended the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs Spring camp in hopes to make the Pontiacs' 2022-23 roster.