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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Condors President Matthew Riley didn't mince any words Wednesday during a Media Roundtable at Goose Loonies restaurant.
He noted that, while the Condors have been good over the years in various areas such as community involvement, they have never reached those heights with the on-ice product.
"One of the things we haven't done is be really great on the ice," he said. "We've had some good seasons but we've never been really great."
After suffering through back-to-back last-place finishes in its division and missing the ECHL playoffs, the hockey operations culture changed as soon as the season ended.
Out were cost-containment measures that certainly did not help produce wins and in was a philosophy of building an American Hockey League-style hockey department.
First, John Olver was hired as general manager, the first time the Condors have had a GM whose sole duties were running the hockey department.
Former ECHL head coach Troy Mann, who had just spent the past four seasons as an assistant in the AHL was hired as coach. Mann then hired Ryan Murphy as his assistant.
And on Wednesday it was announced that former Condors star Paul Willett would be serving as a part-time assistant coach.
With training camp opening in 16 days and the start of the ECHL season just 30 days away, Mann said the Condors are pretty much ready to go personnel-wise.
"It was my vision from the day I took the job that we could run it (like an AHL franchise)," Mann said of hockey operations. "Quite frankly, it was the only reason I took the position.
"When Paul Willett expressed interest on coming on board as a part-time assistant, I thought of his value in terms of helping out on the power play and faceoffs. Those are real important parts of winning hockey games. If he can do that on a part-time basis, help an individual get better, then why not do it."
Veteran forward Chris Collins, who signed to play for the Condors, said having more coaches can only help the players.
"It's tough for one coach, there's a lot of things you have to manage," said Collins, who played collegiately with Murphy at Boston College and has played mostly at the AHL level or in Europe. "Different coaches can handle different parts and they'll get a better feel for the locker room ... I think it's great what they are doing."
Willett played five seasons for the Condors and is the team's all-time points leader with 388. He holds the single-season record of 107 points, set in his first season with the team, 1999-2000.
He served as assistant coach of the Condors in 2004-05 before becoming the head coach of Port Huron, Mich., the following season. He is now the hockey director at the Bakersfield Ice Sports Center.
A boyhood friend of Mann's, Willett said the two have stayed in touch.
"I know I was pretty excited, and (Mann's) No. 1 fan when (Olver) was trying to get him on board here," Willett said. "When he came out here the week before he was hired, we discussed the possibility of me coming on board as a part-time assistant.
"With me having the job at the Bakersfield Ice Sports Center, and the time it takes with all the youth coaching and different aspects of my job, I knew I could only do part-time thing."
Willett said that, since coming to the Ice Sports Center, he had little interest in coaching again at the pro level.
"The ice center has been good to me," he said. "When Troy got involved it tweaked my interest. I'm looking forward to being part of it and helping out as much as I can."
As far as training camp goes, Mann said the staff is pretty much prepared and he's leaving on Tuesday to spend a few days in training camp with the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate.
Mann said camp would be large -- 20 ECHL contracted players (the team has announced 17), 10 tryouts and most likely six assigned here by the parent club in Edmonton.
"We're going to have a scrimmage on Oct. 6 then a scrimmage at the Open House on Oct. 9 and we want to have enough players for competitive scrimmages," he said. "We're always looking for players, but certainly we're content where we are right now."