The Houston Aeros parted ways with head coach Kevin Constantine last week as the parent organization, the Minnesota Wild, chose not to renew Constantine's contract with the team. He took the Aeros into the playoffs in two of his three seasons as head coach, and this past season, he coached a team wrecked by mediocrity, injuries, and call-ups to the big club to a break-even season that saw the club struggle mightily but never give up.
"[The Wild and management] always treated me with respect down here and let us run the program," Constantine told the Chronicle's Andrew Ferraro. "I just tried to help develop their players, and ultimately, they just made a decision."
"They really didn't get into the wheres or the whys. It was a fairly short discussion; (it was) very cordial, very professional and very thankful."
Constantine finished with a record of 117-94-11-18 as head coach. Dismissed with Constantine were his assistant coaches Troy Ward (also the team's assistant GM) and Mark LeRose.
One of the things heard about Constantine, from scouts, from players, from execs around the game, was that he could be a difficult coach to play for. And he could be a demanding coach, but for the most part, he never lost the respect of his players, and they never quit on him, or on the team.
Mitch Love was one of Constantine's former players, having played for him with the Everett Silvertips and with the Aeros during the 2008-2009 season. Love was a fan favorite in Houston, known for his fighting, his energy, and his consistent play. And when I contacted him, Love was more than happy to share a few words about Constantine.
"Kevin as a coach is someone you love to play for," Love said. "He demands a detailed structure and an uncanny work ethic, and if you do that, he'll reward you with your ice time."
Love agreed that Constantine could be a tough man to play for, but he also said that most coaches are that way, and he also spoke highly of Constantine's teaching ability.
"I think any coach is tough to play for, whatever their madness may be," he said. "But Kevin is the best teacher of the game that I've ever had and I think his track record speaks for itself on the success he's had at every level.
"I've told many people including Kevin that I wouldn't be where I am today both as a hockey player and person without the guidance I've had from him. I know I'm not the only guy in that same boat."
And I, too, can attest to Constantine's teaching skills. I remember being in Milwaukee last year for game seven of the Western Conference finals. While waiting for various players to emerge from the showers after practice, I watched Constantine, sitting at a small video player, working with various players, breaking down what Milwaukee would do that night, showing them how they should react, and all of the time praising them on what they were doing right while pointing out the flaws in their games.
He worked with the veterans, and he worked with the kids. He didn't slight anybody, and he was willing to sit and work with each player for as long as was needed. Then when he finished, he came over to me and we talked and joked around for awhile. There was never any sign of the pressure he had to be under that day as the team prepared to play it's biggest game of the season.
The search for a new coach is now on, and the Wild are hoping to have someone in place here in Houston by the end of June. I'm sure he'll be just as good a coach as Constantine. I'm sure he'll be willing to work all hours with untested kids and veterans trying to get one more shot. But I got the chance to get know Kevin Constantine these past three seasons, and in may ways, for me, it's just not going to be same, no matter who they get to be the new coach.
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