Battalion Run With Ryan Oulahen
For a North Bay Battalion franchise that has been around 22 years, there might not be many more firsts left.
The team recently went through a first that many teams might go through within a year of inception, replacing a head coach. Until December 10, 2019, Stan Butler had been the only coach, and general manager, the team had known, however, he was moved to special advisor to the owner and Ryan Oulahen, a former captain and assistant coach with the team, became the interim head coach.
But as of March 24, the interim tag has been removed, and Oulahen is the second head coach in franchise history, on a new three-year deal.
“I am very impressed with the job Ryan has done and very happy with the progress this young roster has made under his guidance on the bench,” said Scott Abbott, the owner of the Battalion. “I am happy to tell you that we have reached an agreement on a contract that will see him serves as the head coach of the North Bay Battalion for a three-year term.”
“I am extremely thrilled, excited, and honoured to be the head coach,” Oulahen said. “This is something I have been working for, for a very long time and I couldn’t be more excited. I would like to thank Mr. Abbott for this opportunity for really being with me for the last 19 years.”
“I have been ingrained in this organization since 2001 when I was first drafted as a 16-year-old,” he continued. “Since that day, I have been a Battalion through and through. I am extremely excited to continue the work that we have started already with our players and staff. This is a place I am excited to come to every day and get better and work towards getting our team, players, and staff better and producing good young men out of this program.”
Oulahen, a veteran of 182 OHL games, to go along with 302 AHL games, served as an assistant coach with the Battalion for five seasons, two in Brampton and three in North Bay. He then went on to spend parts of three seasons as the bench boss for the Flint Firebirds.
“I think with any of us who are in this league for a long time, it’s all about learning whether you’re a player or a coach, we’re continuing to learn each and every day,” Oulahen said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity that I had in Flint, to go there, try things, do different things and really become a better coach.”
“I think the biggest thing that I learned there is patience, to be more even-keeled,” he continued. “Learn to deal with the ups and downs and I really think that I am better for it today, and to be able to return to the Battalion as a much-improved coach.”
For Abbott, it was important to get Oulahen’s name on a three-year deal before the OHL Priority Selection on April 4.
“He’s the second head coach in the history of the organization, and we have had 22 seasons on the ice, so we don’t change coaches very often,” Abbott said. “I regard it as a very exciting, energizing occasion to look forward and see a lot of innovation, experimentation, and accomplishment in the near future.”
“I do think it’s wise to have the identity of the coach for next season known before the priority selection,” he added. “It wasn’t generated by the upcoming priority selection, but the timing was right.
When Oulahen took over the team on December 10, the Troops record then was 5-23, and with him behind the bench, the team went 12-18-4 and was threatening for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. That reason, among others, led to the interim tag being taken off.
“It has been a process of analysis and assessment throughout his first game on December 12th until now,” Abbott explained. “When he joined us in December, we had an agreement that he would come to a conclusion about what he felt about the job and how much he would want it on an ongoing business, and we said we would take that time to see how he did and assess him, and we both came to the same conclusion that we were happy with the fit.”
“I don’t think there was any given point, other than the fact that the team did very, very well,” Abbott added. “We had a slow period at the end of January, early February, but apart from that regardless if we were winning or losing, the team played with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and an expectation to win. In December I said we undertook a rebuild this year and I wanted to see that the rebuild was on a solid footing and the foundation was being laid properly and that was what I saw from December 10th on.”
The familiarity was there as well. As previously mentioned, Oulahen is a former captain of the team in Brampton and assistant coach.
“Ryan was a very accomplished player with us,” Abbott explained. “Was captain of the team in his final year, coached with us, the familiarity with him and his work ethic and his character were certainly important. I think he was always the leading candidate, or favourites to one day become the second head coach in the organization’s history.”
The familiarity also came to the forefront when working with North Bay’s general manager, Adam Dennis.
“One thing for me since the change is my role, I got out on the road a lot more,” Dennis explained. “Knowing and having the confidence that Ryan was organized, and taking care of everything in North Bay and making sure any information I was getting was important and crucial to us.”
“What was crucial was we got to see a lot from the assistant coaches,” Dennis continued. “I thought Ryan was really able to help manage the guys and give them an opportunity to show what they can do. It’s not fluff, this group really works well together. We’re all friends, but we get down to work. There are a lot of debates that go on in the coach’s office and it’s all healthy and all for the greater good, and I think Ryan is key in sparking those debates and making sure everyone has a voice.”
For Oulahen, having a full season is going to be a major benefit.
“We are thrilled and excited to have a training camp,” Oulahen stated. “That was the most challenging aspect this year was coming in halfway through the season. We didn’t have the time to set foundations, we had to pick our spots.”
“Now we get a full training camp, an offseason to talk to our players, and that will be huge for us,” added Oulahen.
Not just that, but the team pushed hard for the final playoff spot over the last month of the season. With another top talent coming by way of the first overall pick in the draft, and another in the import draft, Oulahen says he likes his team’s chances.
“We got valuable experience going through a playoff push and playing meaningful hockey down the stretch run,” he explained. “We really do believe if we were able to continue our season, we might still be playing. Our team was peaking at the right time, our guys were believing in themselves. I think what we are going to try and do is to build on it and grow from it.”
As a coach who had been groomed by Stan Butler for five seasons after playing for him, Oulahen knows he has big shoes to fill.
“I think what excites me the most here is the era that we’re going into and being able to have this team since December and really see what we have on the ice, what we have coming up in the system and the type of people that are working here each and every day, that’s the biggest thing that excites me,” he said.
“It’s an exciting time to be a Battalion fan, to be a part of this organization,” Oulahen added. “We’re changing tides, a new message, a new era and thrilled to see what the future holds for us.”