The Nelson Leafs are looking for a new head coach and general manager after Chris Shaw made a decision to take a position with the BC Hockey League’s Vernon Vipers.
Shaw says that the position had come up suddenly after changes were made to the coaching staff at the Vipers.
“Mark Verner took a position a head coaching job with the WHL in Everett, and Jason Williamson was promoted to the head coach position in Vernon,” he says. “I had a relationship with Jason previously and he called me up and asked if I would take the assistant coach position for him.”
Until the call from Williamson, Shaw says that he had every intention of staying in Nelson and coaching the 2011-12 season.
“It was out of the blue and it was an opportunity I really had to think about, but at the end of the day it was an opportunity for me to move up to another level,” he says.
Shaw had only been with the Leafs for a year, piloting them a 25-22-0-3 record. Nelson pushed the Beaver Valley Nitehawks to game seven in the first round of the KIJHL playoffs, but were eliminated.
“I was building a team here to win a championship and put the best possible product on the ice. I had worked really hard in the last six months as far as recruiting to bring in guys that would be a great fit with Nelson,” he says.
If a championship is what Shaw is after, then the Vipers are a good team to work with. They are six time national champions and the BCHL’s 2012 Fred Page Cup champions.
Shaw had previous coaching experience also with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, KIJHL Penticton Lakers and the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
Vipers head coach Williamson knows Shaw from playing in the BCHL against each other.
“We’re the same age (30) so we played in the league together and we actually fought once,” recalled Williamson, as he discussed Shaw’s appointment Tuesday afternoon.
The duo were recruited by the NCAA Division 1 Niagara Purple Eagles in their 20-year-old BCHL seasons, and have since become good friends.
Williamson stayed in Niagara to secure a business degree, while Shaw went on to play six seasons of minor pro across North America in the ECHL, CHL and UHL.
He says they share similar mind-sets.
“You have to trust someone who works with you and Chris and I already have a good relationship,” he said.
Regarding their junior tilt, Shaw grinned: “I was a defenceman with the Burnaby Bulldogs and he was a forward for the Vipers. We were both similar players, played similar roles, both captains of our team.
“We share very similar philosophies, we played the game the same way and we know what it’s like being players recently.”
Shaw says he likely wouldn’t have considered an assistant coaching job in the BCHL, but when he learned of the vacancy in Vernon, combined with Williamson’s promotion to head coach, it was a “no-brainer.”
“I couldn’t be more excited. Ever since I started coaching I’ve always wanted to progress and move to the best possible spot.”
Shaw says that going to Vernon what he’ll take from his experience with the Leafs is working in a community that is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about hockey.
“Being a first year head coach coming into Nelson, I really learned a lot as far as communication with players and what the city’s expectations are for it’s junior hockey players,” he says.
— With files from Graeme Corbett, Vernon Morning Star