Shaun Clouston had been with the Medicine Hat Tigers for 16 seasons and was the winningest head coach in franchise history.
It all ended Thursday with a terse three-paragraph news release, saying only that the two parties had “parted ways.”
Shortly after the announcement was made, a source familiar with the situation confirmed to Taking Note that Willie Desjardins would be returning to the Tigers, who have a news conference scheduled for this (Friday) morning.
Desjardins, 62, spent eight seasons (2002-10) with the Tigers, the first three as head coach and the last five as general manager and head coach, before leaving to join the NHL’s Dallas Stars as an assistant coach.
He spent two seasons with Dallas, then worked for two seasons as the head coach of the Stars’ AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars.
The Vancouver Canucks hired him as head coach prior to the 2014-15 season and he spent three seasons with them. In 2017-18, he worked as the head coach of Canada’s national team, including at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Desjardins finished this season as the interim head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, having been hired on Nov. 4 following the firing of head coach John Stevens just 13 games into the season. The Kings went 27-34-8 under Desjardins and missed the playoffs.
Desjardins also is involved with the South Alberta Hockey Academy that has partnered with the Prairie Rose School Division in Dunmore, just east of Medicine Hat.
When Desjardins left the Tigers, he was the franchise’s all-time winningest coach, with 323 regular-season victories. He also won 10 games as the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades in 1997-98, so his career regular-season total is at 333.
Clouston took over from Desjardins as head coach for 2010-11, then posted his 324th regular-season victory on Dec. 30, 2017. When this season ended, Clouston had 391 victories.
On Thursday, according to Ryan McCracken of the Medicine Hat News, Tigers media services manager Adam Jones told a news conference: “I think it really is a case of going a different direction. We’ve been doing the same thing for a lot of years and it’s time to try something new. As far as I know, everything was very mutual both ways.”
Clouston, now 51, played three seasons (1986-89) with the Portland Winterhawks, and was the team captain for the last two of those seasons. He returned to the Winterhawks as an assistant coach for 2001-02, then took over as the Tri-City Americans’ head coach for 2002-03, only to be replaced by general manager Bob Tory in midseason.
Clouston spent the next two seasons as an assistant coach under Desjardins with the Tigers, then was promoted to associate coach. When Desjardins left for Dallas, Clouston took over as head coach. He had been the general manager and head coach since 2012-13.
With Clouston in charge, the Tigers qualified for the playoffs in eight of nine seasons, twice reaching the Eastern Conference final. The one time they missed the postseason (2015-16), they lost a tiebreaker to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Here’s a look at the 23 WHL head coaches who have more than 300 regular-season victories to their credit (following 2018-19):
1. Don Hay (Kamloops, Tri-City, Vancouver) 750
2. Ken Hodge (Edmonton, Portland), 742
3. Don Nachbaur (Seattle, Tri-City, Spokane) 692
4. Lorne Molleken (Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver) 626
5. Mike Williamson (Portland, Calgary, Tri-City) 572
6. Ernie McLean (Estevan, New Westminster) 548
7. Pat Ginnell (Flin Flon, Victoria, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, New Westminster) 518
8. Marc Habscheid (Kamloops, Kelowna, Chilliwack, Victoria, Prince Albert) 509
9. Brent Sutter (Red Deer) 500
10. Peter Anholt (Prince Albert, Seattle, Red Deer, Kelowna, Lethbridge) 466
Jack Shupe (Medicine Hat, Victoria) 466
12. Kelly McCrimmon (Brandon) 465
Dean Clark (Calgary, Brandon, Kamloops, Prince George) 465
14. Bob Lowes (Seattle, Brandon, Regina) 453
15. Doug Sauter (Calgary, Medicine Hat, Regina, Brandon) 417
16. Marcel Comeau (Calgary, Saskatoon, Tacoma, Kelowna) 411
17. Bryan Maxwell (Medicine Hat, Spokane, Lethbridge) 397
18. Shaun Clouston (Tri-City, Medicine Hat) 391
19. Mike Johnston (Portland) 355
20. Graham James (Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Calgary) 349
21. Bob Loucks (Lethbridge, Tri-City, Medicine Hat) 340
22. Willie Desjardins (Saskatoon, Medicine Hat) 333
23. Kevin Constantine (Everett) 326
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