Coaching can be a tough business and Luke Pierce knows that well.
His dismissal from the Kootenay Ice on Friday, however, was a brand new experience.
“This is the first time that this has happened to me [and] you go through a lot of emotions,” Pierce said shortly after the news became public. “You go through it all: some anger, some disappointment, some embarrassment, you name it. We’re just trying to cope with it the best we can as a family.”
At 33 years old, this is the first time that Pierce has been let go from a coaching job. After a career in the BCHL with the Merritt Centennials and the Vernon Vipers, the Merritt, BC native played five seasons with the Royal Military College Paladins of the CIS.
As a student at RMC between 2004 and 2009, Pierce graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with a Psychology Major and Business Minor. He also earned a Master’s Degree of Business Administration with a concentration in Strategic Management.
In 2009-10, Pierce took over as the head coach of the Merritt Centennials, a job that he held for six seasons before being hired by the Ice in May 2015.
While at the helm of the rebuilding Ice, the franchise missed the WHL playoffs for the first two times since their arrival in Cranbrook in 1998.
Overall, Pierce accumulated a 26-99-19 record over two seasons with Kootenay.
Nevertheless, Pierce was surprised to find out that he would not be returning to his post for the 2017-18 season.
“I think that when these things come about you can use hindsight a little bit to maybe look for reasons, but I really didn’t see it coming,” he said. “It was a shocker for me, for sure.”
At the beginning of May, the Kootenay Ice underwent a transfer of ownership from the Chynoweth family to Winnipeg investors Matt Cockell and Greg Fettes.
According to a team press release, Cockell said that the decision to let Pierce go was based on a commitment to “a fresh start.”
“We feel that this was a necessary decision to accomplish that objective,” Cockell said, adding that “the Ice would like to thank Luke for his dedication to the hockey club and the community over the past two seasons.”
Although Pierce admitted that the effects of the news were still “too fresh”, he is thankful that the announcement came early enough in the summer for him to have some time to evaluate his next step.
“There’s always silver linings and I try to be the optimist as best I can,” he said. “I think that everyone understands that when there is new ownership or new managers that there’s an opportunity that things could happen.
“I was hopeful that I’d have a chance [to stay] with a group that I feel pretty strongly about coming into the season, but that’s not the case.”
Earlier in the off-season, Pierce was named by Hockey Canada to the coaching staff of Team Canada Red at the 2017 U17 Hockey Challenge. The coach said he has no immediate plans other than to “spend time with his family and figure out what the best move is from here forward.”
The Ice also announced that they will begin the search for a new head coach immediately and Cockell confirmed that the rest of the team’s current coaching staff is still under contract for the upcoming season.
Kootenay is now one of four WHL team’s with head coach vacancies, along with the Calgary Hitmen, Victoria Royals and Spokane Chiefs.