Former Swan Valley Stampeders bench boss Erik Petersen took a couple of days to compose his thoughts after he was relieved of his duties last week. He had plenty of positive things to say, while also still questioning what he describes as the puzzling and unprofessional timing of his release.
Petersen was told his fate following the 57th game of the year – a Stampeder victory over the visiting Virden Oil Capitals. He did admit the timing surprised him – though not the fact that it came after a victory.
“I was more dumbfounded by the fact there was only three games left in the season, and the win helped us stay right in the mix,” said Petersen. “I was told by the president that the board felt the players needed a new voice in the room to show that change was on the way.”
Petersen said there was a mutual option in place for next season, but the board wanted to evaluate the direction of the team after the season. Petersen said he was not in total agreement with that, and told the board that if that was the case, he would have to explore other options for the coming season as well.
Despite the ambiguity, Petersen said he did his best to improve the Stampeders, through the trade deadline.
“To do anything else would be unprofessional – if I was only concerned about the remainder of this season, I could have kept the 20-year-olds and not build for future teams, and maybe spend more money at the deadline to try and bring in some older players,” said Petersen. “I didn’t think that made sense because, at the time, it was pretty clear Steinbach was going to be our first-round opponent and the odds of us winning that series were not going to change with the current group of players. I sought out more offence and size, while adding assets to the organization that were younger, and added quality to the Protected Players list.”
He added the team was dealt a tough hand after trading away older players, while newer players coming in suffered injuries and were not available to him as he had hoped.
Looking back at his time in the Valley, Petersen said he takes away plenty of positives.
“I am proud of the development here,” he said. “When I came in four years ago they were looking for a coach that would develop talent, and I think we accomplished that in a huge way. Literally every 20-year-old who has graduated from our program (in the past four years) has had a chance to further their hockey scholastically. Some of them have chosen not to go that route and have opted to do something else with their life.
“We also allowed some young players to join our team early, 16 and 17-year-olds, with the goal of going onto the WHL, and we accomplished that as well,” he added. “You develop relationships with the players you recruit, and their parents, and being able to fulfill those promises you make them, that’s a highlight for me.”
With those positives come a few negatives – mostly surrounding his exit from the team. He admits the ending was a fairly bitter pill to swallow.
“In my opinion, I’ve been a team player all the way through,” he said. “When I came here I inherited an enormous amount of debt, and priority No. 1 was to ensure that we ran this team economically responsible, and we started to whittle away at that debt, with the help of volunteers, and new fundraisers as well as managing a tight hockey operations budget.
“I was also told the bank could potentially call in their loan, and that guarantors could have that line of credit called in and be responsible for that debt,” he added. “I think by helping cut into that debt by $100,000, while at the same time moving players onto other levels of hockey, added to my extensive international experience at high levels of hockey, warrants me another coaching job in the hockey world, in a different location.
“The way this whole thing happened – it’s amateurism, and unprofessional,” he said, noting that board members never expressed their concerns directly to him either around the board table or at the arena. “I was doing what the board had set out for me to do, for almost four seasons. I have three perfect year end evaluations. To this day I have never received a written warning regarding my or the team’s performance. If the goals of the organization changed with the addition of new board members this season, someone should have informed me. To be removed three games before the end of the season, for the reasons provided, makes no sense. It’s a distraction for a group of players who were pushing to make the playoffs. It should have been done 20 games ago or after the season. I suspect there’s more to this story that even I’m not privy to.”
Dave Kirk, the president of the Swan Valley Stampeders board, was reached by email following the decision to relieve Erik Petersen of his duties. The following are the questions and his answers:
Star and Times - When did the board make this decision to relieve Petersen of his position? And why did the board go in this direction?
Kirk - The decision to make a move was made after the weekend set against Virden. The board of directors felt that change was needed and that with everything involved it was time to make it now.
S&T - When the decision was made, was there a plan in place as to who would coach the remainder of the regular season? And who will be in charge of spring camps/recruiting while the search for a new head coach and general manager is ongoing?
Kirk - Yes, there was a plan for after the decision was made. Our plan is to have Darren Webster step in as the interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season. Darren will assume the responsibilities over the spring camp and recruiting. Darren has been looking after the bantam draft for a number of years already and will continue to do those duties.
S&T - Does the board have a comment as to the timing? The Stamps are an eighth seed at best and the playoffs are potentially just a week away. If the board was planning on not bringing Petersen back next season why didn't they just allow his contract to run out? Why fire him with only three games left in the regular season?
Kirk - The board felt a change was needed and decided that now was the time. When the decision has been made to make a change … there is no great time to do it. You do it when it needs done and move forward.
S&T - Not sure you can answer this one but I'll ask anyway - was the board unanimous in this decision?
Kirk - No comment.