At the ECHL finals this weekend, I was able to talk to someone who has played for Peter DeBoer, the GM/head coach of the Kitchener Rangers who is a candidate for the Atlanta Thrashers head coaching job. Ryan Donally, with the AHL Quad City Flames and ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers this year, spent parts of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons playing under DeBoer.
There are plenty of people in the Thrashers organization who have either played with or for DeBoer, but in Donally, we have someone for whom DeBoer is only a former coach - not a former and potentially future coach - so he shouldn't have an agenda. And below you can see that indeed he wasn't bound to positive comments. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised by both the honesty and the content of his answers. Quite revealing by Donally, who I found to be bright and helpful. The 23-year-old winger is in his second year pro.
This is him below, eating a banana on the bench at morning skate. (He's currently out with a high ankle sprain and is only 50-50 for getting back this series.) I guess he's rooting for the Penguins in the SCF, based on the t-shirt.
First, to let you get to know Donally a little bit, here's what he had to say about former Kitchener teammate Boris Valabik, who we know well: "Boris is an unbelievable guy. I love Boris. He's kind of misunderstood. He's a big, mean, intense player, but you get him off the ice, he's a teddy bear with a great heart. He's awesome."
I asked if Donally had a favorite memory of Boris. He said, "I think one of the times we got into it at practice between each other and then we went out for dinner right after. It's one of those things - the shared intensity. I really hope he does well."
I then told Donally that I had seen him play for Omaha in Chicago last year when he fought Guillaume Desbiens. "Oh, I broke my nose that game," Donally said, remembering it all too well. Desbiens had told me after that game that Valabik had given him tips for fighting Donally beforehand. Naturally, I shared this information with Donally this weekend. "Did he? Oh geez," Donally said, eventually laughing. "I'll have remind Boris that I'm not a pushover."
Alright, now on to Donally's comments on DeBoer, which were actually the start of the conversation.
Me: What kind of guy is DeBoer?
Donally: He's a pretty tough-nosed coach. He tries to command respect out of... kind of showing he's boss. You know, that's his style of coaching. I spent about a year there with him. It was good for my development to go through an experience with a coach like Pete because there's a lot of coaches at higher levels who are hard-nosed guys.
Me: Where would he be on a scale of coaches you've had?
Donally: He's well-respected, he's educated. He knows the game. He's done a great job as a general manager at Kitchener too. Typically it's not the style of coaching that I like as much. I'd much rather be sat down and talked to face to face, man to man, as opposed to being yelled at. But everyone responds to different things. He's done a pretty good job with Kitchener right now and they seem to be responding to his teachings.
Me: Was everyone yelled at or were there any taken aside?
Donally: I think if you work hard for him, there's that mutual respect, but he's more of an intimidator as opposed to like a good friend.
Me: How about Xs and Os? Does he do a lot of that?
Donally: Yeah, he did some of that. Steve Spott, his assistant coach, he did most of that. They make a good duo together.
Me: Do you think he uses his assistant more than other coaches?
Donally: I don't know, you don't know what's going on behind the scenes.
Me: Do you think DeBoer will do well in the NHL?
Donally: If he gets an opportunity. It's a tough life there. The shelf life for a coach in the NHL is really not long. I guess if he can get them to respond to him, yeah. If he's put in an opportunity that he can prosper in, then yeah. But he could be put in a bad situation with not good characters - you never know how it ends up.
Me: What kind of team do you think he would be best for?
Donally: Probably a younger team. He's more of a motivator. The older players might kind of like a not as hard-nosed guy. They might prefer someone who's more face to face and not yelling. But dealing with 16 and 17-year-olds is one thing, dealing with 26, 27-year-olds - millionaire players - they're completely different mindsets. I haven't been in those shoes, so I can't really tell you for sure.
Me: What are your favorite memories of Kitchener?
Donally: You know, I didn't have the best time in Kitchener - not solely based around Pete. I had some injury trouble at the time. He was good at getting a lot out of our team. But I have great memories of the guys there. Those are the things I want to remember.