Seattle Thunderbirds hire Colorado Avalanche assistant as new head coach | Western Hockey League

Steve Konowalchuk had no plans to leave his job as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League until the Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team asked him to be its new coach.

Steve Konowalchuk is introduced Thursday at the ShoWare Center in Kent as the new coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Steve Konowalchuk is introduced Thursday at the ShoWare Center in Kent as the new coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Steve Konowalchuk had no plans to leave his job as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League until the Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team asked him to be its new coach.

“When the Thunderbirds asked me if I wanted to be a part of building their future, it was a pretty obvious choice,” Konowalchuk said at a press conference Thursday at the ShoWare Center in Kent. “I want to work with these young kids helping them become professional athletes and teaching them the right attitude and work ethic and whatever it takes to get to the next level.”

It was good news for T-Birds general manager Russ Farwell when Konowalchuk, 38, accepted the job offer to coach in the Western Hockey League.

“He wasn’t looking for a job,” Farwell said. “We went to him and asked him if he would be interested and we’re lucky enough that he thought it was something he wanted to do and was prepared to make that move.”

Farwell came away impressed with what others told him about Konowalchuk, who played 14 years in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and the Avalanche.

“He had a very successful career as a NHL player and spent a longtime in the NHL and has very respectable numbers scoring-wise,” Farwell said. “But the most impressive thing when I talked to people about him is nobody talked about that. They talked about the passion that he brought everyday and his work ethic at both practice and games.

“I think that’s exactly the kind of guy that makes a good coach and the kind of guy that knows what it takes to develop a winning team and also what it takes for our guys to get to the next level with their careers.”

Konowalchuk replaces Rob Sumner, who was fired in March after the 2010-11 season and seven years as head coach. Seattle missed the WHL playoffs for the second straight season. They finished with a record of 27-35-5-5. The T-Birds placed ninth out of 10 teams in the Western Conference. The top eight teams advanced to the playoffs.

The new coach expects to quickly turn the team around into a playoff contender.

“We believe we’ll be challenging with the top teams in the league,” Konowalchuk said during an interview after the press conference. “We have a lot of good returning players. I’ve watched some tape and they’ve impressed me with what they’ve done on the ice. If they come and build off what they did last year we should be right there.”

Konowalchuk named Jim Schoenfeld and Ron Wilson, who each coached him with the Capitals, as two of main influences for how he will coach the T-Birds.

“He (Schoenfeld) was very detailed oriented and makes you work hard every day and demands that you do the job with getting the pucks deep and puck possession,” he said. “That’s where I learned the basis of my career and what it takes to win.”

Wilson coached Konowalchuk for five years with the Capitals, including a loss in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit.

“I learned from him that you can demand hard work but you can come to the rink and have fun and you need that combination over a long season to keep the energy for the season,” Kowoalchuk said.

Konowalchuk, who grew up in Salt Lake City, appeared in 790 games in 14 NHL seasons, recording 171 goals and 225 assists for 396 points. Konowalchuk was selected by the Capitals in the third round, 58th overall, in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.

He played two seasons in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks from 1990-92. He had 94 goals and 102 assists for 196 points in 136 games with the Winterhawks.

The new coach expects his playing experience to help him relate to the T-Birds players.

“It always gives you something to fall back on,” Konowalchuk said. “I remember what it was like when I was 18 and going to junior (hockey) and leaving home and what you’re sacrificing to be there and understand what these kids are going through. You’ve seen it and can relate to these situations.”

Farwell, of course, had to tease Konowalchuk about his past with the rival Winterhawks.

“The only black mark on his career is the two years in Portland,” Farwell said. “But we’re prepared to overlook that.”

Konowalchuk, who is married with two children, will soon move his family to the Seattle area from Colorado.

“It’s a very exciting day to be back in the WHL,” he said. “I started my junior career with the Portland Winterhawks and that propelled me to my NHL career so it’s exciting to be back in a league that I believe in and is a great hockey league.”

But his ties to Portland grew more distant because of his new job.

“I can’t wait to beat the Portland Winterhawks,” Konowalchuk said.

Players and fans also can expect to see Konowalchuk quite animated at times.

“I’m just going to be who I am,” Konowalchuk said. “If I’m emotional at times, I’ll be emotional. And other times I’ll be nice and calm and just kind of let it play itself out.”

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