After 12 games with defenseman Dustin Henning serving as interim head coach, the Danville Dashers announced (at roughly 1am for some reason), they had hired veteran head coach Rod Davidson as their new head coach.
Davidson, who will be the third coach of the Dashers this season after their first coach, Paul MacLean, was fired on December 19, comes to the Dashers with more than four seasons of head coaching experience under his belt, but hasn’t been the head man in pro hockey since the 2002-03 season when he was fired mid-season by the Anchorage Aces of the WCHL.
In addition to his stop in Anchorage, Davidson was the head coach of the Alexandria Warthogs of the WPHL, then had three seasons with the Indianapolis Ice of the CHL, winning a championship in his first year with the team. Over his four-plus years as a head coach, he’s amassed a record of 127-166-33, and made two trips to the playoffs in those four-plus years.
But can he save the Dashers season, and send them to the playoffs after the team has fallen like a rock in the standings to fifth place?
Remember that when MacLean was fired back in December, the Dashers had a record of 8-8-1-0 (W-L-OTW-OTL) for 26 points and sat in third in the FHL, but MacLean’s firing came on the heels of a 1-7 skid after the team at one point was very briefly in first place.
Well, since the firing of MacLean, the Dashers haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the 12 games with Henning at the helm. Danville now has a record of 9-18-2-0, meaning that since getting rid of MacLean, the team has posted a record of just 1-10-1-0, getting just FIVE of a possible 36 points in the standings, and currently sits in fifth place, one spot out of the playoffs, one point back of Port Huron.
Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the Dashers (at the time of that post’s writing), had 15 players that they viewed as their property, not with the team, including 14 on loan and one who refused to report to the team.
Davidson said in a release on the Dashers’ site that he plans to play, “an aggressive style of play that forces the opposition to turn the puck over…today’s game is certainly about speed.” While also adding that he, “values the goalie as a key position to the success of the team.”
That’s all well and good, and certainly sounds like a good plan, because a fast team with good goaltending can go a long ways, just ask Vegas last season. But it’s 29 games into the season, and Davidson doesn’t have the benefit like Vegas, of getting to hand-pick every player on the team to make a full roster of players that he wants.
The Dashers have a full roster, and quite frankly, at the moment it stinks, because after that 7-1-1-0 start, the team is just 2-17-1-0, which is basically North Shore Knights (RIP) bad.
Now, that’s not to say that changes aren’t coming. Because you best believe that with the exception of about five or six skaters and goalie Matt Kaludis, absolutely nobody’s job is safe on a team that has just three wins over its last 20 games. And as we alluded to above, you know Davidson will want to get some of his type of players on the roster, meaning players who are slow, or aren’t producing, or some combination of the two, are likely looking over their shoulders to see if they remain on the team.
But even with changes likely coming, I wouldn’t expect it to drastically change things for the Dashers. Again, we’re 29 games into the season, and star players (by FHL standards) aren’t sitting on the couch at home. And the only way the Dashers may be able to get an impact player is if Ryan Marker (who is tied for 2nd on the team in scoring despite not having played a game for the team in two months), decides to come back. And I’d guess that since he refused to report back after his SPHL release, that the team and Davidson shouldn’t count on that happening.
If there is a bit of good news, it’s that even with just three wins in their last 20, aside from Elmira, no other team has taken off and gotten hot, which keeps them right in the playoff race. Port Huron is just 2-8 over its last 10, while Mentor is only 3-7, so if Davidson can even modestly improve the team’s performance over the last 31 games, it could very well lead to a playoff berth. And honestly, things really can’t get worse on the ice for the Dashers than things have gone over the past two months.
So to sum it all up, I would bet on the Dashers being better under Davidson, but I wouldn’t expect them to light the FHL on fire and challenge for the Commissioner’s Cup. A playoff berth may be realistic, but to think they can get up to the level of Carolina, or even Elimra at this point, is wishful thinking.