With National Hockey League players locked out, Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Tom Renney is getting an opportunity to stay close to home and get back to his roots.
The veteran NHL coach has been a fixture at the Nelson and District Community Complex over the last few weeks, taking in Nelson Junior Leafs games and even helping on the ice with drills.
“Nelson is home in essence,” Renney told the Star on Sunday at the Leafs game. “With the lockout, there is not really much for us to do. The general manager and ownership is really fair in what they expect from us, they said ‘go home and enjoy the next couple weeks because we know how hard you go when we go, so take advantage of it.’ So we are.”
Renney is married to Glenda Gare and the couple owns a home in the area.
Renney started his coaching career in the KIJHL with Rossland and Columbia Valley. He asked Leafs’ coach Frank Maida if he wanted a hand and the local coach jumped the chance.
“I was hoping he might invite me to come out on the ice and he has done that,” said Renney. “I am just giving them ideas and some little things to think about. I’ve run some drills and encouraged the players to do what they do best. As much as they might get something out of it, I’m getting more.”
Renney coached Columbia Valley to Cyclone Taylor and Keystone Cup titles in 1989. After coaching in the KIJHL, Renney made the jump to the Western Hockey League where he continued to have success with the Kamloops Blazers. He coached the team to first overall in both seasons he was behind the bench and captured the Memorial Cup in 1992.
Renney has coached with the Canadian national team on many occasions and broke into the NHL as a head coach in 1996-97 with the Vancouver Canucks. Since that time he has coached the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and has now signed on with the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings.
Despite his impressive resume coaching the elite hockey players on the planet, Renney said he gets excited to return to where he started.
“The systems play might get a little more sophisticated because the athlete does, but in essence it’s coaching,” Renney said when asked to compare the two. “The game is intentioned the same way and that is what makes it fun. You can cross-pollinate, it doesn’t matter what level you are coaching at… it’s all hockey.”
And the Leafs have enjoyed having the veteran skipper on the ice.
“The players were quite nervous on the first day, but he has been very talkative and now they feel very comfortable,” said Maida.
“It’s been very good for myself and for the players. The players really enjoy having Tom out there.”
Renney said he likes what he sees with the Junior Leafs.
“I like what we are doing here,” he said. “Frank is doing a really good job, he has some players that are really committed and I see some kids who are going to get better and better every year.”
Renney has also spent some time in the last few weeks in his hometown of Cranbrook where he has hopped on the ice with the Kootenay Ice.
Despite the break, Renney is hopeful the labour standoff ends soon.
“It’s a new start for me in Detroit,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting back there and working with [head coach] Mike [Babcock] and assistant coach Bill [Peters] and getting that team up and running. In the meantime, I am going to completely enjoy what I am doing where I am.”