By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
Before the 2003-04 Western Hockey League season, Kevin Constantine became head coach of the expansion Everett Silvertips. And despite having a hodgepodge roster — “We were a bunch of misfits and pieces from other teams,” defenseman Shaun Heshka recalled — Constantine guided that squad all the way to the WHL finals.
A decade later, those players expect Constantine will work the same magic in his second tenure with the Tips.
The 54-year-old Constantine was introduced Thursday as the sixth head coach in team history, roughly six years after he ended a four-season stint as Everett’s first head coach. Though he inherits a team that has struggled in recent years, “I think there’s immediately going to be success,” said Jeff Harvey, a goalkeeper in 2003-04.
“Kevin’s track record speaks for itself,” Harvey said. “What he did with us as an expansion team was unbelievable. So I think you’re going to see a drastic turnabout in the first season. Once the players (start) buying into his system, it won’t take long to see a contender back in Everett.”
“He’ll have a major impact,” agreed Heshka, who played three seasons for Constantine, wrapping up his Everett years in 2006. “I think it’s going to mean a lot to have him back.”
In talking about Constantine, former players use words like intense, passionate and demanding. Oh, and one other word — vocal.
Whether in the video room or on the ice, “he will be heard,” said 2003-08 goaltender Leland Irving. “And you have to be careful as a player not to take the message the wrong way because it can be very harsh.
“He gets purple in the face at times … but it’s because he wants to make you better for your own good and for the good of the team as well,” Irving said.
“If I had any advice to give to the players, it’d be to have a thick skin with him,” 2005-10 center Zack Dailey said with a chuckle. “You just have to understand that he’s trying to get the best out of you and it’s nothing personal.”
But for all his emotion, Constantine also stands out for his hockey knowledge, game and practice preparations, and player motivation.
“His attention to detail is the biggest thing,” Dailey said. “He has a lot of systems, so there’s a lot to learn and know. But as long as you stick to the systems and do as you’re told, you’ll play and he’ll like you.”
“I’ve never seen a man so prepared and so willing do whatever he needs to do to win a hockey game,” Harvey said. “But he also understands that he’s not just coaching a hockey team, he’s coaching 23 different individuals. Kevin found ways to motivate all his players. And he knew every single button to push with every single guy.”
Of all his former Everett players, perhaps no one knows Constantine better than Mitch Love. The former defenseman played for Constantine in his first two seasons with the Tips, then again in 2008-09 with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League. The two men will reunite once more this coming season since Love is now an Everett assistant coach.
“It’s an exciting hire, and something I’m looking forward to,” Love said. “He’s been successful wherever he’s gone. He demands hard work and when you play for him, yeah, it might be longer days. But at end of the day, he’s going to make you a better hockey player.”
Likewise, Love expects the 2013-14 Tips to experience something the 2003-04 players all felt. Given Constantine’s résumé, which includes all or parts of seven seasons as an NHL head coach, there was “instant credibility,” Love said. “There was automatically a sense of intimidation, but in a good way. It was like, ‘This guy knows what he’s talking about.’ We knew he was a good hockey coach and we were all ears.
“With where we’re going as an organization, with trying to get back to the upper echelon of teams in the Western Hockey League, he’s going to push these kids, just as he did in his first four years here.”
None of his former players was greatly surprised that Constantine would return to Everett. As Heshka explained, “I was more surprised when he left than I am that he’s coming back. He’s just a great fit there.”
“I’ve stayed in close contact with Kevin for a lot of years,” Love said, “and I know what this area meant to him and to his family. He fell in love with this area and with the fan base.”
“Everett has always held a special place in his heart,” Harvey said. “For me, I was just wondering why it took so long (for him to come back).”