📝 by Patrick Williams
It is one of the most important roles in any National Hockey League organization.
The American Hockey League head coach. The figure who will execute the organization’s development strategy, guide top prospects through growing pains while also nurturing and nudging players who have perhaps hit a rut in their development path.
Your AHL head coach is tasked with putting a productive development system into motion and generating a flow of young talent for the NHL parent club.
Thirty-two teams. Nine changes. This summer NHL front offices were busy trying to nail those hires.
Here is a breakdown of the head-coaching changes across the AHL this offseason.
The AHL is also a path to the NHL for head coaches, and on July 1, Trent Cull received his call to the Vancouver Canucks. Cull, who spent 13 seasons behind AHL benches with Syracuse (2006-10, 2013-17), Utica (2017-21) and Abbotsford (2021-22), will be an assistant coach on AHL Hall of Fame member Bruce Boudreau’s staff with Vancouver.
Taking over for Cull is Jeremy Colliton, who five years ago was the youngest head coach in the AHL when he took over the Rockford IceHogs. Now 37, Colliton will lead the AHL Canucks through the always-challenging Pacific Division.
Colliton’s resume includes a trip to the 2018 conference finals with Rockford, parts of four seasons as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, and a trip to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games as a member of the coaching staff for Canada’s men’s team.
Ryan Warsofsky was another young head coach who found quick AHL success.
An assistant coach with the 2019 Calder Cup champion Charlotte Checkers, Warsofsky went on to spend three seasons coaching the Carolina Hurricanes’ top prospects in Charlotte and Chicago. Last season he guided the Wolves to a league-best 50 regular-season wins and 110 points before capturing another Calder Cup title.
But Warsofsky is off to the NHL as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks, part of a wave of changes for the Wolves this summer.
Now it will be Brock Sheahan, yet another impressive young head coach tasked with taking on the challenge of leading pro prospects at the AHL level. The 38-year-old Sheahan has not had to move far for the opportunity, joining the Wolves from the United States Hockey League’s Chicago Steel. Sheahan, a former pro defenseman, broke into the coaching game at just 29 years old as an assistant coach at Notre Dame University. From there he was an assistant coach and associate head coach at the College of the Holy Cross before moving to the Steel, where he took that league’s championship in 2021.
For the past three seasons, the Monsters had the AHL’s oldest head coach in Mike Eaves. Now they will have the youngest – Ohio native Trent Vogelhuber, who turned 34 in July.
Despite the gap in age, Eaves and Vogelhuber possess plenty of similarities. They bring upbeat, optimistic, player-friendly approaches. Vogelhuber worked to grind out a career at the AHL level and won a Calder Cup with the Monsters in 2016. He worked the past four seasons as an assistant coach with Cleveland.
With Eaves recovering from shoulder surgery last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets saw fit to hand increasing responsibility to Vogelhuber. Cleveland endured several key injuries, and Vogelhuber’s calm, even disposition through those challenges prompted Columbus to promote Vogelhuber after Eaves stepped down in April.
Needing to construct a full AHL operation this summer, the Seattle Kraken went with a proven hand to guide the expansion Firebirds.
That choice was Dan Bylsma: a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, a Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL’s outstanding coach in 2010-11, and the head coach of the United States men’s entry at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Bylsma, 52, spent last season as an assistant coach with Charlotte, where Seattle placed its prospects before the move to Coachella Valley. He has also been an NHL head coach in Buffalo, and was head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2008-09 before his promotion to Pittsburgh.
While the AHL’s newest club went with experience, so too did the Hershey Bears, the league’s senior-most franchise.
Hershey’s past two head coaches, Spencer Carbery (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Scott Allen (Washington Capitals), are now NHL assistant coaches.
With Allen’s promotion this summer, the Capitals turned to 53-year-old Todd Nelson, a proven developer and winner at the AHL level. A one-time Bears defenseman, Nelson took the Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup championship in 2017, and his 309 regular-season wins rank him 19th in league history.
Nelson returns to the AHL following four seasons as an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020.
Long-time NHL forward Marco Sturm will get his first look at the AHL this fall with the Reign.
Ontario’s new head coach played 938 NHL games and also has extensive experience representing Germany as a player and head coach in international competition.
Sturm, 44, was with the parent Los Angeles Kings as an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
Sturm is new to the AHL. Roy Sommer is not.
But Sommer is new to San Diego, where he will lead the Gulls after 24 seasons in the Sharks organization as their AHL head coach.
The 65-year-old Sommer’s 1,742 games and 808 wins each rank first all-time in AHL history. He won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the league’s outstanding coach in 2016-17 and also sent more than 150 players on to the NHL during his time with the San Jose organization.
Change is the theme this summer for the Barracuda, who will have a new home (Tech CU Arena), new jerseys, and a new head coach in 36-year-old John McCarthy.
But McCarthy’s connections to the Sharks are extensive, including four seasons captaining the organization’s AHL affiliates in Worcester and San Jose. He played 552 of his 577 AHL games as a member of the Sharks organization and wrapped up his 11-season career in 2019-20, when he earned the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award in 2019-20 for sportsmanship, determination, and dedication to hockey.
McCarthy had been a development coach for the Barracuda for the past two seasons after working on Sommer’s bench staff following his retirement in December 2019.
The Arizona Coyotes went back to a familiar face to replace head coach Jay Varady in Tucson.
Following Varady’s move to the Detroit Red Wings as an assistant coach, the Coyotes turned back to Steve Potvin, who had previously led the Roadrunners in 2020-21 when Varady spent the season as a member of Arizona’s coaching staff.
Potvin, 47, enters his sixth season with the Roadrunners and seventh season with the Coyotes organization in 2022-23. He served as a skills coach in 2016-17 before joining Tucson as an assistant for their inaugural season in 2017-18.
Two other AHL head coaches lost their interim tags this past summer as well:
After Jay Woodcroft’s move to the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 11, 2022, Bakersfield assistant Colin Chaulk was given the difficult task of taking over an AHL club mid-season.
The 45-year-old Chaulk finished 19-12-1-2 and pushed the Condors into the Calder Cup Playoffs, where Bakersfield advanced past Abbotsford before losing to first-place Stockton in the Pacific Division semifinals.
Chaulk was previously an AHL assistant in Belleville, and served as head coach and vice president of hockey operations for the ECHL’s Brampton Beast from 2015 to 2019.
Like Chaulk in Bakersfield, Anders Sorensen will remain as head coach of the IceHogs after finishing last season in an interim head coaching role.
In his third season as an assistant coach with Rockford, Sorensen took over last November after Derek King was promoted to the Blackhawks. Sorensen, 47, went 35-26-4-1 as Rockford reached the Calder Cup Playoffs before falling to Chicago in the Central Division semifinals.
King, who was an assistant with the Toronto Marlies for six seasons before joining Rockford in 2016, will remain with the Blackhawks as an assistant coach in 2022-23.
UP NEXT: A look at the return of the AHL All-Star Classic this season.
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.