It was, for first-year Coach Bob Francis, a rewarding year. It didn't fulfill every coach's dream - to win the final game - but he walked away feeling good. He returns this year for his second try at coaching the Salt Lake Golden Eagles with somewhat less assurance and more of a challenge.
Francis took the Eagles to a 38-37-7 last season and into the semifinals of the International Hockey League playoffs.For the first time in three years, however, there was no Salt Lake team in the Turner Cup finals. Indianapolis beat the Eagles in the fifth game of the semis. It took overtime to do it, but it ended Francis' rookie year with a loss.
"It's the goal of every coach to win the last game. I didn't, but I'm not disappointed. We were right there. We gave Indianapolis all they could handle. But we never let up. We played the best we could, right to the end. I feel good about that," he said.
Francis was given the coaching post in 1989. It was, he said, a gradual move . . . "going from a player, to a player/coach, to a coach."
Francis had joined the Eagles in 1984 as a player. It was, too, the first year the Eagles were in the IHL.
He came to the Eagles from the Central Hockey League where he had been recognized as one of its finest players. Among his honors was being named the league's Most Valuable Player and its Rookie of the Year in the 1981-82 season when he was the league-leading scorer.
Looking back over his first year at coach, that he'd learn one thing:
"That it's a mistake to try and build players around a team. I don't think it can work. Some players just may not be able to play a certain way. What you have to do is take the players you have and build the team around the talent.
"I believe that and I think it worked for me last year."
This year he faces more of a challenge. Along with a strong corps of veterans, he will have to mold 11 newcomers into the system.
Having been on both sides of the boards, he said the two jobs - coaching and playing - have their advantages.
"You can't beat playing. Coaching, I think, comes the closest. They have all the same ingredients - the competition and the challenges."