Sunday, 4 October 2015

Sweet homecoming for Molleken

Lorne Molleken (centre) mans the Vancouver Giants bench.
    Lorne Molleken emerged from the Vancouver Giants dressing room and had to immediately start hugging SaskTel Centre staffers who saw him.
    It was pretty easy to see the 59-year-old Regina product spent 14 seasons in the Bridge City with the Saskatoon Blades as either the team’s head coach, general manager or holding both titles. Besides meeting building staffers after the Giants 5-4 overtime victory on Sunday over the host Blades, Molleken had a large number of family and friends waiting to see him including former Blades owner Jack Brodsky. Brodsky was waiting for his long-time pal outside the Giants dressing room in a golf shirt and jeans as opposed to the suit and tie he usually wore to games as the top boss of “the Bridge City Bunch.”
    Molleken admitted it was different being on the visitor’s bench at the SaskTel Centre, but he said he had been around so long a familiar feeling would come back no matter where he was in the building noting there was a time the current visitor’s bench was the Blades bench.
    “For a long time, we used this dressing room as our home dressing room back in the early 90s,” said Molleken, who is the Blades all-time career leader in coaching victories at 539 and winning percentage at .591. “This city has always treated myself and our family extremely well, especially the Brodsky family that I worked for, for a long, long time.
    “To sort of comeback and walk through the doors of this building, it is special, because I’ve got lots of great memories here with this rink.”
    The veteran bench boss was with the Blades during two stints from 1991-95 and 2004-2014. For most of the second stint, Molleken was both the club’s head coach and general manager, but he gave up the head coaching role following the 2012-13 campaign, when he Blades hosted the Memorial Cup.
    During the 2013 off-season, the team was sold by the Brodsky family to the Priestner family, and Molleken stayed on for one last campaign before mutually parting ways with the new ownership group, who wanted to go in another direction with management and coaching.
    After a year out of the major junior ranks, Molleken became the head coach of the Giants this past off-season. While he arrived at the SaskTel Centre with a different team, Molleken said being in the Blades long-time home brought back a lot of good memories of the quality players and people he coached.
    The list of players he worked with included the likes of Norm Maracle, Rhett Warrener, David Struch, the late Wade Belak, Frank Banham and Andy MacIntyre in his first stint to Devin Setoguchi, Derek Hulak, Braden Holtby, Connor Cox, Darren Dietz and Nelson Nogier in his second stint. That list of names could obviously be much more lengthy.
The scrum occurs in front of the Giants net.
    “I look back and I look up in the rafters and teams that I’ve coached, we have some banners up there,” said Molleken, who guided the Blades to Game 7 setbacks in the 1992 and 1994 WHL championship finals. “I look back, and I had a chance to visit Daryl Lubiniecki before the game. He was a great general manager here (during Molleken’s stint in the 1990s).
    “He provided us with a lot of real character hard working players. That is the way our team played here for a lot of years, and it was very successful.”
    Molleken admitted the big pain from those years was the fact the Blades never won the league title and the Memorial Cup. His second stint guiding the team was littered with first and second round playoff exits.
    While the big trophies were never won, those looking in from an objective standpoint would have to conclude Molleken put in a true and honest effort to build a team in Saskatoon that went all the way. He knows that in the world of sports ultimate victory might not be achieved, even if you put in the honest effort.
    Even knowing that, Molleken said those ultimate victories of winning a league title and a Memorial Cup, which never came, feel like those missing things.
    “For the city and the Brodsky family, it would have put the icing on the cake,” said Molleken. “Winning in this league is very difficult.
    “The disappointing part was when we had some teams that we thought that we could be real successful with, (and) we didn’t have any success in the playoffs. That is the disappointing part when I look back, and I know how disappointed our fans were also.”
    On Sunday, Molleken’s current team and former team battled in a back-and-forth contest, where each side carried play for lengthy stretches before 3,506 spectators. At the 1:50 mark of overtime, Giants left-winger Jakob Stukel potted the winning goal on a beauty of an individual effort.
    Carter Popoff, Matt Barberis, Dakota Odgers and Ty Ronning netted singles for the Giants in regulation. Lukas MacKenzie, Jake Kustra, Cameron Hebig and Ryan Graham replied with singles for the Blades. MacKenzie and Kustra potted their first career WHL goals, and Graham scored the equalizer that sent the contest to overtime with 20.8 seconds to play in the third.
    Cody Porter made 39 stops to earn the win in goal for the Giants, while Brock Hamm turned away 32 shots to take the overtime setback for the Blades (1-0-3).
    The Giants were 1-for-4 with the power play, while the Blades were 2-for-8 with the man advantage.
    Vancouver improved to 3-0-1 with the win, and Molleken’s career regular season coaching record including time spent with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats grew to 606-391-73. His win total is the second highest in WHL history trailing only the 742 victories put up by Ken Hodge, who guided the original Edmonton Oil Kings/Portland Winterhawks franchise.
The Giants celebrate their OT winning goal against the Blades.
    During his career, Molleken developed a reputation for being one of the classiest persons in the league, who always gave a solid and accurate post-game interview win or lose that often recognized that fact two teams were out there trying to win a game. That characteristic was on display again following Sunday’s clash between the Giants and Blades.
    “It was an exciting afternoon, obviously,” said Molleken, who was given a video tribute by the Blades early in the contest. “We win the hockey game, but more so, I thought that our guys played pretty well five on five.
    “We took some penalties tonight that hurt us, (but) give Saskatoon a lot of credit. They are team that kept battling and battling and battling. We were fortunate to find a way to win a hockey game.”

    If you have any comments you want to pass along about this blog post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.