DORRANCE TOWNSHIP — There was a common bond that reunited former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins players and coaches for a charity golf tournament on Monday.
Sure, they all spent time playing or coaching for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the chance to raise money for the Penguins GOALS Foundation was something everyone was behind. Still, there was another factor that compelled them all to reunite for the Goal in One Golf Tournament at Blue Ridge Trail Golf Club.
“It’s a testament to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and community,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said. “It means that much to all of us who have coached here to come back. It’s important to us.”
Sullivan was one of several former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaches to return, joining the team’s first coach, Glenn Patrick along with Michel Therrien and John Hynes. Former players included Dennis Bonvie, Chris Kelleher, Colby Armstrong and Alain Nasreddine. Rounding out the group were current coaches Clark Donatelli and J.D. Forrest and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton general manager Bill Guerin.
For Sullivan, who recently won his second consecutive Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh since he coached Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, much of the big club’s success is attributable to the AHL squad. Not only have numerous players worked up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to become key contributors in Pittsburgh, but it’s been a proving ground for coaches as well.
“The common denominator is (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO) Jeff Barrett and (executive vice president) Greg Petorak. I believe it’s the model franchise for how they run their operation,” Sullivan said. “They run this team like an NHL franchise.”
Hynes is the longest-tenured coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton history as he served behind the bench for five seasons. He and Nasreddine, who is his assistant coach, took over the lead roles with the New Jersey Devils two seasons ago, but still keep tabs on the success at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“It’s a real special place for all of us,” he said. “When you come here to coach, you see the tradition of Wilkes-Barre being a very difficult team to play against. A tradition of being a proud team.
“It’s great to see the tradition has been carried on.”
Patrick was the franchise’s first coach in 1999 and led the team for its first four seasons. He still resides in the area and called his time with the Penguins the highlight of his career.
And on Monday, the chance to reunite with some of the franchise’s other coaches was the highlight of Patrick’s day.
“When you’re out of hockey you love being back with all your colleagues,” he said. “This organization has a winning tradition and it’s good to see all these other coaches have success.”
Therrien followed Patrick and coached Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from 2003 to 2005 before taking over in Pittsburgh.
Therrien was Pittsburgh’s head coach until 2009, and recently guided the Montreal Canadiens from 2012 to February 2017.
Despite his long NHL track record, Therrien has fond memories of his time in Wilkes-Barre.
“That was a place for me that, in my life, was at the right time,” he said. “I remember we were sold out every game and it was really fun to come to the rink.
“I have a lot of memories for myself and my kids. When I told them I was coming in for a few days they were excited for me.”
Now, it’s Donatelli’s turn to carry on the strong coaching tradition in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He’ll return for a third season this October and on Monday, Donatelli was happy to spend time with some of the coaches who laid the groundwork for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s success.
“The coaching staffs that have been here handed down a culture. Every coach puts his spin on it, but the nucleus is there,” Donatelli said. “It’s a great tradition.”
And that’s something that has rubbed off on former players as well.
Armstrong played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from 2002 to 2006, playing for Patrick and Therrien. He went on to play for Pittsburgh, the Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and a stint in Sweden before retiring from hockey.
Today, Armstrong is a hockey analyst for Sportsnet but is still connected to Wilkes-Barre as his wife is from the area.
The golf tournament was Armstrong’s first event as a former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin and he isn’t surprised by the team’s consistent success.
“Glenn Patrick was my first coach, and then Therrien came in and you see different personalities and thoughts, but at the same time the team is still making playoff runs,” Armstrong said. “It’s a good partnership with the Penguins to have the jewel of the AHL here in Wilkes-Barre.”