Glen Hanlon can relate to what his players are going through.
The general manager of the Vancouver Giants was once in his players’ position, a teenaged boy chasing the dream of professional hockey.
Hanlon was no different than the current players on his roster.
“You realize, sort of around the age of 14, that if you do the right things, you might have a chance of reaching a childhood dream,” he said.
Back when Hanlon was a teenager, there was no Western Hockey League bantam draft.
The draft, which is held every spring, allows the 22 major junior teams to select graduating bantam players (ages 13 and 14) from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as from the western United States.
Hanlon played for hometown Wheat Kings
Growing up in Brandon, Man., Hanlon fell under the territorial rights of his hometown Brandon Wheat Kings, so that is where he played his major junior career.
And in 1977, the goaltender was drafted by both the NHL (the Vancouver Canucks took him in the third round, 40th overall) and the World Hockey Association (the Houston Aeros also selected him in the third round, 30th overall).
Hanlon, who turned pro in 1977, still remembers his first NHL game, which came late in the 1977-78 season with the Canucks.
“I can still visualize being in the hotel the night before and certainly sleeping wasn’t easy, that’s for sure,” he recalled.
He was anxious and remembers walking out of the tunnel at the Pacific Coliseum, with what must have had 15,000 or 16,000 fans in the stands that night for the game against Philadelphia.
“That was when it really hit home and I was like, ‘this is it,’” Hanlon recalled.
The Flyers scored a couple of goals that first period but the Canucks came back to tie the score before ultimately losing 3-2.
“The great thing about the NHL is it is the greatest league in the world and the thrill never leaves you, it stays with you.
“There is a different feeling in your first game but the thrill of going into a rink and playing a game at that level never left, even after 14 years.”
Hanlon played 477 games in the NHL with Vancouver, the St. Louis Blues, the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings.
Coaching followed NHL career
As for coaching? That was never really in the plan.
It was the summer of 1991 and Hanlon had split his time that past season with Detroit and the International Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls. Up until that point, the goaltender — now 34 years old — had figured he would catch on with another team for one more contract.
But as summer neared its end, no call came.
“There was a harsh reality that I might not be in the game come September. It was quite scary, to be honest,” he admitted.
Hanlon made some calls and thankfully some of his former teammates — Stan Smyl, Curt Fraser and Jack McIlhargey — were involved with the Canucks.
The team was looking for a goaltending coach. Hanlon got the job, and this helped fill the void of no longer playing.
“Once I started, it didn’t take me long to realize that there is a real team-inside-the-team with the coaching staff,” he said.
Some of the men involved with the organization back then included the late Pat Quinn, Brian Burke, Rick Ley, Ron Wilson and Ron Smith.
“It was a great transition because I could sit and listen to some really smart people,” Hanlon said. “I was just sitting there, listening and absorbing, so I didn’t really have to put my beliefs to the test, which is the most difficult thing from transitioning from player to coach.”
Hanlon found he enjoyed coaching the goaltenders, so he also began studying systems and psychology. A few years later, he was hired as an assistant coach. Hanlon spent four seasons as an assistant on the Canucks bench before landing his first head coaching job, in the American Hockey League with the Portland Pirates. He used that as a springboard to another NHL assistant coaching job, this time with the Washington Capitals.
Midway through his third year, he took over as head coach.
Hanlon coached two full seasons before being fired a quarter of the way through the 2007-08 season.
And while getting fired was devastating, it didn’t deter Hanlon, who would go on to coach at various stops in Europe as well as serving as an assistant coach with the Giants under former coach Don Hay from 2011 to 2013.
As for what style the team will play, Hanlon said hockey goes through trends and the current trend is having a fast-skating team which can move the puck and attack in waves, much like the current Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“There are some real innovative people in this game and they come up with great ideas,” Hanlon explained. “You observe and come up with how you can make it work for yourself.”
Hanlon’s first move as general manager was hiring head coach Jason McKee, of the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
CJ Relke Vancouver Giants
Glen Hanlon served as an assistant coach for the Vancouver Giants from 2011 to 2013. Hanlon returned to the WHL team this past summer, now working as the general manager.