River Dragons Announce 2019-20 Coaching Staff
Columbus, GA - The Columbus River Dragons are proud to announce the coaching staff that will be leading the team in its inaugural season in 2019-20.
The staff will be led by two associate coaches in Gary Gill and Jerome Bechard and one player/assistant coach in Jay Croop.
Gill is a Quebec native who is making his second go-around in the Federal League after previously coaching the Rome Frenzy in the FPHL's inaugural season. Past the Federal League, Gill has also coached teams in the ECHL (Reading), CHL (Mississippi), and WSHL (Cheyenne and Oklahoma City). His previous stint as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers is a team he currently owns.
"Coaching juniors the last few years progressing players it will almost be the same thing as what I'm doing [in Columbus] because the FPHL is a developmental league too for players trying to reach that next level" Gill said. "This league has reached a new level since 10-11, it's found its identity and the growth of the league has progressed in a nice manner and allowed the league to gain relevance in the pro hockey world."
Gill has also made stops in the collegiate ranks at Shippensburg and Penn State-Berks, the latter of which he led to an undefeated 31-0 season in 2005-06 in the DVCHC.
"I'm looking forward to getting going again, Columbus is a town that was always a war zone, when you came here you better come with your best game" Gill said. "We're looking forward to that type of play and that type of reputation again. I'm excited about the fans and atmosphere, the fans are outrageous and wildly supportive of the team. It's very exciting for me and my family to come to a place that has the hockey heritage that Columbus has."
Bechard might be Saskatchewan born but he's been Mr. Columbus Hockey for as long as anyone can remember. Bechard played nine seasons in a Cottonmouths jersey in the ECHL, CHL and SPHL as part of a long playing career and then transitioned from player to coach quite well. When his playing days were done in 2003 he kept the title of head coach of the Cottonmouths all the way until the team ceased operations in 2016-17. All told Bechard has spent 21 years in Columbus as a player or an executive.
"I am very excited to be back on the ice coaching and having a direct impact on teaching the game and the importance of set goals and achieving them as a team" Bechard said. "Bringing that mindset that we have a goal to win a championship here, and in order to do that we have to work together as a team with everyone having a role and taking that role and owning it, this not only relates to hockey but real life."
After the two associate coaches there will be player/assistant coach Jay Croop. Croop will be entering his fifth season as a player in the FPHL making stops along the way that include Port Huron and Carolina, the latter of which he was a part of the team that won the 2019 Commissioner's Cup championship. This will be Croop's first role in a split player-coach role.
River Dragons ownership believes that this rather unorthodox coaching setup will do great things in a league like the FPHL where experimentation has often thrived and both men are confident that the relationship they have will pay dividends for the on-ice product.
"We're both cut from the same cloth, we both have the same thought process on how the team should go and what style we're going to play, the personnel we want to attract, all these things we're talking to each other about and its going well" Gill said. "I have the utmost respect for Jerome. I've known him, I've coached against him and when you have two heads its better than one. With all that knowledge and our similar styles the team effort should produce good things."
"I have played in a situation with multiple associate coaches before and it worked seamlessly" Bechard said. "Two minds are better than one. For it to work, Gary and I must be on the same page as far as everything goes. The style we play, the type of players we have, and making sure those things can match each other. With my full time real estate job it was important for the organization to have the associate coach system and we'll both have the same voice with our players."
Gill, Bechard and Croop's next tasks are to seek out player commitments and find players to invite to training camp which will start in mid-October.
"We would like to play Columbus style hockey, fast, hard-hitting and an aggressive style" Bechard added. "We will need to build from the net out, with good goaltending and a strong defense that can get out of our zone quickly and then play an overwhelming forechecking game! That is our goal, now we have to find the players that can play that style."
Interested parties can reach out to the coaching staff at their email addresses.
HOCKEY RETURNS to the Columbus Civic Center on Friday, November 1st at 7:35 p.m. when your River Dragons take on the Elmira Enforcers to open the home portion of their inaugural FPHL schedule. The River Dragons have also scheduled two neutral site games in Athens, GA this summer. Visit www.rdragons.com for season ticket information and everything you need to know about the Columbus River Dragons.