Based on glowing recommendation, Pens hire Agnew as assistant
Penguins coach Mike Johnston, eager to find the final member of his staff, gave St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock a call.
Hitchcock made a case for Gary Agnew that Johnston couldn't refuse.
Agnew, who was an assistant under Hitchcock in St. Louis and Columbus, will join Rick Tocchet and goaltender coach Mike Bales on Johnston's staff.
“Hitchcock had some really glowing things to say,” Johnston said. “He thinks very, very highly of him, as do we.”
St. Louis fired a portion of its staff, including Agnew, after the Blues, among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Agnew, who has an extensive background of coaching in the Ontario Hockey League and American Hockey League, knew he wanted his next job to be at the NHL level.
“I didn't really ask why when I was fired,” said Agnew, who considers himself a player's coach. “The idea, moving forward, was to stay in the NHL.”
Agnew will be the final member of the Penguins coaching staff, Johnston said. He also said Jacques Martin, who was on the staff last season, will be involved in some capacity, though a clear role hasn't been identified.
Agnew has been the coach of the London Knights and Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL and was the longtime coach of the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL.
“This is something Rick Tocchet and I talked about,” Johnston said. “We loved being able to bring in a guy who had so much head coaching experience at those levels.”
Travis Green, a former assistant of Johnston's in Portland, originally was the front-runner for the job but decided to remain the coach at Utica. The Penguins then developed a large number of candidates. Agnew stuck out, and Hitchcock's reference made him the logical choice, Johnston said.
Hitchcock has played a profound role in Agnew's career.
“When you work with a guy like Ken Hitchcock,” Agnew said, “you have a chance to see the way he sees the game.”
Hitchcock's teams are known for their defensive work and physical play, two areas that haven't always been the Penguins' greatest strength. Agnew plans to instill some of those values.
“In St. Louis, it was all about the details of defense, checking to score,” he said. “That means, if you don't have the puck, you better get it back. It's a basic philosophy, and it holds true. ... Teams that play 200 feet win Stanley Cups.”
Johnston said specific duties — who will handle the power play, penalty killing unit, and defensemen, among other duties — will be sorted out next week.
“Doesn't matter to me,” Agnew said. “I was a junior coach, and when you're a junior coach, you pretty much coach every aspect.”
Johnston, who said he worked primarily with defensemen while coaching in Portland, might handle the bulk of the work with his team' s blue line.
No matter which roles are decided upon, Johnston thinks he selected an ideal assistant.
“Just a good hockey coach,” he said. “We're happy to have him.”