The Everett Silvertips knew as they were preparing for the franchise’s inaugural season in 2003 that they needed to make a splash. They were bringing hockey to a region that had no history with the sport, so they needed to do something to grab the public’s attention.
Enter Kevin Constantine.
Constantine was immediately the highest-profile coach in the Western Hockey League, bringing instant credibility to the franchise. He’d coached the NHL’s New Jersey Devils as recently as 2002 and his seven years of coaching in the pro ranks were fresh in the mind.
That instant credibility extended to the Silvertips players in 2003, who knew all about Constantine. They’d seen him on television while watching NHL games. They watched his eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks upset the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the 1994 playoffs, and they saw him do it again in 1999 as his eighth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins knocked off the top-seeded Devils. When they met Constantine in person for the first time, there was no need for formal introductions. They knew who he was.
When Constantine was again introduced to a new set of players during Everett’s training camp this past August, introductions were again unnecessary. However, that’s thanks to Google.
This time around, Constantine’s name doesn’t carry quite the same familiarity with the players. Nearly all of them weren’t born when he guided the Sharks to that famous first-round upset in 1994, the first time in NHL history that a No. 8 seed beat a No. 1 seed.
This year’s 16-year-olds turned 5 the year Constantine last coached in the NHL. The past three seasons Constantine hasn’t even been on the continent, spending that time in Europe coaching Ducs d’Angers in France and HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland.
So, when Constantine was rehired during the offseason, a little digging was required on the players’ part.
“I knew I had to research him up a little bit, just to get to know him,” goaltender Austin Lotz said. “That’s how I know about his time in the NHL, and I’m sure other guys do, too. He’s a well-known guy in this city and we’re all just really honored to have the opportunity to have a guy like him behind our bench.”
Constantine’s Wikipedia page surely took some additional hits after he was named Everett’s new coach on June 13 as Everett’s players sought to learn their new leader’s credentials. Those credentials, at least as far as his NHL background, weren’t in the front of the players’ minds the way they were for their 2003 predecessors.
“I think maybe (Constantine’s time in the NHL) is a little before us,” center Kohl Bauml said. “Some guys might know, I don’t. I know he was in Europe a little bit between Everett stints. Other than that, I don’t really know too much about his background. But I’ve heard everywhere he goes he’s been a winning coach, so it’s a good formula for us.”
What else has Bauml heard?
“You hear the stories,” Bauml replied. “Obviously the bus riding one from Tri-City (when Constantine had the team ride back from Kennewick in its gear following a poor preseason performance in 2006), you hear about that one all the time. I find that kind of a funny story to tell, actually. But I hear lots of good things. I hear he demands a lot on the ice. He’s a real stickler to the plan and if you follow the plan, you’ll be fine.”
Constantine isn’t the only former NHL coach to lead the Tips. Craig Hartsburg, who spent seven seasons in the NHL coaching the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators, guided Everett from 2009-11. One player still remains from Hartsburg’s days, overage forward Joshua Winquist, and he sees the parallels between the two coaches.
“I think it’s pretty cool to have (Constantine),” said Winquist, who also had to look Constantine up on the internet to get details on his new coach. “It reminds me of when I first got here with Craig Hartsburg, having an NHL coach. It’s always cool meeting those guys because they’ve been through it a time or two.
“They’re both really serious guys and they don’t let any crap go,” Winquist added. “You’re accountable for what you do and you have to be prepared to work every single day.”
While many of the players were busy discovering Constantine’s NHL history, there’s one Everett player who was familiar with Constantine’s more recent work.
“He was coaching in Switzerland, that’s what I knew,” Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller said. “He seems like a really focused guy. I think he really wants a good structure to our game and to help us become better hockey players and people.”
For his part, Constantine isn’t ready to determine whether he’s been received differently by today’s players than he was in 2003.
“I think it’s too early to really know that,” Constantine said. “I’m sure they’re still trying to figure me out.”
Eventually they will, but it may take a little longer than it did 10 years ago.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.