Brian Gratz, a native of Fort Wayne and former backup goaltender with the Komets, has been hired as coach of the Dayton Gems.
"Well, I'm definitely very excited about the opportunity," he said. "It's obviously something I've been working toward for quite some time, even back to my playing days."
Gratz, who is only 28, takes the position after another coach, believed to be Stan Drulia, decided instead to coach in the ECHL.
"It's easy to take a look at my birthday and say, 'He's a pretty young guy,'' Gratz said. "But nobody is going to match my work ethic."
Following the completion of his playing career, Gratz spent the 2006-07 season as a volunteer assistant coach with Reading of the ECHL. Then he coached the Indiana Ice Miners of the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League, going 31-1-0.
In 2008-09, he was coach and general manager of the Eastern Professional Hockey League's Jersey Rockhoppers, going 32-16-2, and last season he was the goaltending coach at Penn State.
"The game still needs to be taught and the guys need to know what they need to be successful. I have tremendous respect for players at this level and what they aspire to achieve. Being up front and honest with them is something they respect," Gratz said.
Last season, Dayton was a league-worst 25-46-5 as an expansion team in the IHL, which will be part of the Central Hockey League this season. The Gems had an owership change in the middle of the season, though, and fired John Marks this summer.
"Everything is going to be a change of culture here," he said. "From what I understand, Dayton didn't have bad personnel last year playing-wise. We just have to find a direction, which will be one of working hard and making sure we have a full team commitment and play the type of game that helps us win."
What do I think of this? First of all, Gratz is a great guy and very hard worker, and he's a proven winner at lower levels. And I've never heard a bad thing about the guy. In that respect, it's a very good hire. And he played for some very good coaches, including Greg Puhalski.
However, this is a big jump in talent for him, and he is going to have to work to get the players' respect. And the Gems can ill afford to make a bad hire, given the skepticism of the market there, and the lack of success last season.
It's a little hard to believe they went from Drulia to Gratz. But I know some of the other people who were up for the job, and I bet you Gratz just blew the Gems' management away in interviews.
So I'm on the fence on this. I'm rooting for Gratz to succeed, and I think he will be good, but a lot is going to be dependent on the personnel he is able to bring in there, and whether he can get them to believe.