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By Sean Blair
By MIKE GRIFFITH, Californian staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
As a physical, 6-foot-5, 230 pound defenseman more than willing to stick up for a teammate, Matt O’Dette was a player Condors fans loved to hate.
Now those fans will have to embrace him as the new head coach of of the Condors.
“The way I look at it, If I wasn’t hated as an opponent I probably wasn’t doing my job,” O’Dette said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “If fans didn’t know who I was I wouldn’t have been very effective as an opposing player.”
The Condors selected the former Fresno Falcon and Stockton Thunder player over two other finalists — John Wroblewski, an assistant with the Wheeling (W. Va.) Nailers in the ECHL, and Malcolm Cameron, who has more than 600 games as a head coach at this level.
It is the first head coaching job for O’Dette, 35, who served as assistant coach to Matt Thomas for Stockton last season.
“O’Dette’s been a captain for most of his years on the ice and is certainly a leader,” Condors president Matthew Riley said. “He’s a guy, as an opponent, you never liked him very much. You wanted him on your team and now he’s on our team and we’re excited about it.”
O’Dette replaces Marty Raymond, who had been head coach of the Condors since taking reins of the team with 17 games left in the 2003-04 season. Raymond stepped down as coach in late May to take a coaching position in Europe.
“I think he’ll be a good fit here,” said Raymond, who is leaving for Europe in a couple of weeks. “He’s tough and well respected. He backed up his teammates and always did the dirty job and that’s not easy. He knows the West, knows the rivalry and he won’t have any wimps playing here.”
A native of Toronto, O’Dette got his start in pro hockey with the Roanoke (Va.) Express in the ECHL in 1996 before playing the next six seasons at the American Hockey League level. O’Dette joined the Fresno Falcons in 2004 and played with them until the team folded in December, 2008.
After the Falcons folded, Thomas, who was coach of Fresno, took over as coach in Stockton and O’Dette followed him there. O’Dette served as player/assistant coach in 2008-09, appearing in just 16 games due to injury, and was named assistant coach at the end of the regular season.
Riley said there were many factors that led to the team offering O’Dette the job.
“A knowledge of the West, his leadership abilities, the fact he’s been a captain, he’d been to two Calder Cup Finals (at the AHL level) and being under Matt Thomas ... he came highly recommended,” Riley said. “He didn’t have to take a job. He was in a good situation and was one of the most sought-after assistants yet to have a head coaching job, so he could sort of sit back and pick and choose.”
O’Dette, who had to be at a hockey camp in San Jose on Tuesday and could not be in Bakersfield for the announcement, said he was offered the job on Saturday night.
“I’m excited,” he said. “The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. “At any level of hockey you want to advance your career. When the Bakersfield job opened up I thought it was a great opportunity.”
An opportunity he would not have been able to take advantage of had not the Thunder given him a chance as an assistant.
“Matt (Thomas) has taught me well and I’m grateful for that,” O’Dette said. “The Stockton organization as whole is a great organization. I know a lot of teams don’t have assistant coaches. They allowed me to start my career as an assistant and without that opportunity I wouldn’t be in that position now.”
O’Dette did a lot of recruiting for the Thunder but he said he had to put everything on hold the past week.
“It’s hard to recruit for Stockton when the opportunity to be a head coach in Bakersfield was a distinct possibility,” he said. “Also I couldn’t get going on Bakersfield because I did still have the (Stockton) job any my loyalty was with Stockton.
“But now that it’s official it’s guns blazing for Bakersfield. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life and I’m really looking forward to it.”