Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Saginaw's Gilbert named top OHL coach

The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Saginaw Spirit head coach Greg Gilbert is the 2011-12 recipient of the Matt Leyden Trophy for OHL Coach of the Year.

Gilbert joined the Spirit midway through the 2011-12 campaign and in 36 games behind the bench earned a 20-10-1-5 record for 46 points helping the Spirit climb from ninth place in the OHL’s Western Conference standings with 28 points to a fifth place finish with 74 points. The sixth coach in club history, Gilbert becomes the first Matt Leyden Trophy winner in the Spirit’s 10-year history in Saginaw.

Gilbert coached his first game behind the Spirit bench on December 14. His presence helped spark a turnaround both offensively and defensively with the club shifting from an average of 3.4 goals-per-game and 4.3 goals-against in the first 32 games, to 4.1 goals-per-game while allowing just 3.4 goals-against in the final 36 games. The Spirit also improved on special teams jumping from 15th to the fourth best power play unit and the 16th to the eighth best penalty kill percentage under Gilbert.

"On behalf of Dick Garber, we are proud of Greg Gilbert and his accomplishments behind our bench this season,” said Spirit managing partner, president and governor Craig Goslin. “Gibby expects and gets the best from the players that wear the Spirit sweater and in return he treats them with a great deal of respect. He makes everyone around him better. He makes the players, coaches and the hockey and business staffs all feel that they are a significant part of his direction. Maybe the greatest intangible of his coaching style is trust. He is much more than our player’s coach; he is their mentor, teacher, trainer and leader. It's no accident that he played 16 years in the NHL and won three Stanley Cups."

A 50-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., Gilbert returned to the OHL this season after working five seasons as a head coach in the AHL between the Toronto Marlies and Adirondack Phantoms, building on a professional coaching resume of 12 years. His career also included parts of three seasons at the helm of the Calgary Flames between 2000-03 and began in 1996-97 with the Worcester IceCats where he earned AHL Coach of the Year honors. His OHL coaching career previously included three seasons with the Mississauga IceDogs from 2003-06 earning a pair of 80-point seasons and a berth in the OHL Finals in 2004.

As a player, Gilbert was selected in the fourth round of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders and played in the OHL for three seasons with the Toronto Marlboros scoring 108 points in 1982 before joining the Islanders for parts of their championship run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Islanders in 1983 and with the New York Rangers in 1994 playing a total of 837 regular season NHL games recording 378 points between the Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Rangers, and St. Louis Blues, where he finished his career in 1995-96.

"He is the best coach that I’ve ever had,” said Spirit defenseman and alternate captain Brad Walch. “He motivated us and taught us to play the right way and treated us like NHLers. He taught me to be a better player and a better teammate. All of the guys will be really glad to hear that he received this honor as OHL Coach of the Year. He's a great coach."

The Matt Leyden Trophy is voted on by the member teams of the OHL. In a first round of balloting, teams vote for the top coaches, within their own conference. The top three nominees from both the Eastern and Western conferences are declared as finalists. A second round of voting is then conducted on a league wide basis where teams vote for any of the six finalists. At no time during the voting can a team vote for their own candidate. Coaches receive five points for a first place vote, three points for a second place vote and one point for a third place vote.

Gilbert finished with 45 points in the voting process ahead of Steve Spott of the Kitchener Rangers who received 39 voting points, and Stan Butler of the Brampton Battalion who finished in third place with 34 voting points.

The Matt Leyden Trophy has been awarded annually since 1972 in recognition of the contributions of Matt Leyden, past president of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1965-1967. The Oshawa native was honored as a lifetime member of the OHA in 1972.

Previous award winners include Hockey Hall of Fame member Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67’s who has won the award a record five times Dale Hunter has won the award three times behind the London Knights’ bench including back-to-back honours in 2004-05 and most recently in 2010. Bert Templeton (Hamilton and North Bay), Terry Crisp (Sault Ste. Marie), George Burnett (Niagara Falls), Gary Agnew (London), Craig Hartsburg (Guelph and Sault Ste. Marie), Peter DeBoer (Plymouth) and Bob Boughner (Windsor) have also each won the award twice.

Current Ottawa Senators’ assistant coach Mark Reeds won the award last season behind the bench of the OHL champion Owen Sound Attack.

Gilbert will be formally presented with the award at the 2011-12 OHL awards ceremony taking place Tuesday, June 5 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and will also be the OHL’s nominee for the Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year.

Photo/CHL Images

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