Another year, a new head coach for Arizona Hawks
By DARRELL JACKSON, Staff Writer
Junior Hockey News
Drama has followed the Western States Hockey League Arizona Hawks junior league hockey team, and owner/general manager Greg Schursky continues to turn around a group that has struggled to build a winner.
Now, for the third time in less than a year, the Hawks will have another new head coach. Former player Jay Kouris takes over for Luke Hernandez, who resigned earlier this month.
“(Hernandez) was just overwhelmed and decided he couldn’t handle the pressure, or stay on as coach,” Schursky said. “He was basically not doing what he is supposed to be doing, recruiting players, etc., and he decided he needed to get his head together and resigned about four weeks ago.”
Schursky said he quickly got pressure from the WSHL league to get a head coach and, after talking to numerous coaches, decided Kouris was a perfect choice to help turn the team around.
“(Kouris) played here in the past and has the pride of being a Hawk,” Schursky said. “The league was pressuring me to get a coach, but since we are just a tenant in this building, we don’t run the youth program and that was a sticking point with a lot of coaches who wanted to run that program.”
Kouris was a forward and defenseman who played his final two seasons with the (then) Arizona Redhawks in 2009-11, before aging out of the WSHL. He played in 43 games, scoring a goal and three assists before injuring himself.
“I loved my time playing here and am proud to come in here and help make this team a consistent winner and playoff team,” Kouris said.
After he aged out of the league, Kouris was hired as an assistant coach of the Hawks, where he coached for three seasons.
“This is my first head coaching job and I am excited to show what I can do,” Kouris said. “I like to fashion my style like former Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett, a quiet leader, and I admire that style. I am quiet on the bench because during a game, it doesn’t help to scream and yell. But I have lost a gasket before; I just don’t think it helps to do that during the game.”
After ending last season with a 47-game winless streak, Schursky knows his team has got to turn things around to improve their standing within the WSHL.
“I have been getting a lot of pressure, well deserved after the way last year ended,” Schursky said. “We have to win, there is no other way to put it, we have to win, or else.”
Starting the 2017-18 season with their fourth coach in three years, Kouris takes over a team that struggled on the ice, allowing 449 goals and scoring 62 in 52 games last season.
“It is very simple: We can score five goals every game, but if we give up seven, we are never going to win,” Kouris said. “If they face 60 shots a game, that is tough, no matter who is playing goal at any level.”
Kouris said he is preparing his team to be a defensive-based squad that needs to focus on controlling the puck and keeping the pressure off their goaltenders.
“We have four goalies here already and at least one more expected to come in, so we are working to get better,” Kouris said. “Travis Green is returning and is focused on showing that he can win games. Any time you get another year in juniors is beneficial and he really is working hard to get better.”
While training camp is only a week old, Kouris said he sees major improvement after watching tapes of last season. He said the kids are working hard and Kouris believes he can turn the team around.
“We have got to improve in the defensive zone, but that first pass by a defenseman is key to setting up our offense and we are working on that,” Kouris said. “If you don’t get that first pass, you can’t get your offense started and we definitely need to improve that.”
Through nine seasons in the WSHL, the Hawks have compiled an 82-274-23 record with their lone winning season in 2011-12 (22-20-3).
The Hawks joined the league as an expansion team in 2009-10 and have struggled since. They have made the playoffs twice in their existence, 2012-13 and 2015-16, but were eliminated quickly in their first game both times to the Fresno Monsters.
WSHL teams consist of 16- to 20-year-old amateur players under the Junior A league and are working to advance to earn college scholarships, or the next level of playing.
“Coaching 16- to 20-year-old kids, it is tough sometimes, but I know I can do the job,” Kouris said. “My goal is to have a more cohesive unit and even after a week, it is showing.”
Schursky said last season was tough and he knows Kouris is the one for the job.
“He has pride from previously playing here and he is proud to have been a Hawk,” Schursky said. “Pride is key, the kids have to have pride in the program and I see Kouris being the end to all the coaching changes because of his confidence, attitude and communication with the kids.”