After 11 years in the Calgary Flames organization, Jim Playfair felt it was time to take on a new challenge.
That was the driving force behind the former Abbotsford Heat head coach’s decision to accept an offer from the Phoenix Coyotes to serve as an associate coach under Dave Tippett.
“When they approached me, I felt the time was right,” said Playfair, who signed a three-year contract. “I talked it over with (Flames president) Ken King and (general manager) Jay Feaster, and we all felt it was a very good opportunity.”
Playfair said he’s excited to return to the NHL, and professed a great deal of respect for the Coyotes’ brain trust of head coach Tippett, general manager Don Maloney and assistant GM Brad Treliving.
“They’re really clear on how they want their team to play, and it’s really interiguing to me,” he said. “It’s a new challenge for me, to help a new team.”
Feaster, in a press release Monday, said the Flames will begin the process of identifying and hiring a new bench boss for Abbotsford immediately.
Playfair, the only head coach the Heat have ever known, piloted the team to a 77-61-9-13 record over their first two American Hockey League campaigns in Abbotsford.
He steered the Heat to the Calder Cup playoffs in 2009-10, where they rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Rochester Americans in the first round. They fell in six games to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the North Division final.
Last season, the Heat were the youngest team in the AHL, and narrowly missed the playoffs with a 38-32-4-6 record.
Playfair authored perhaps the most memorable moment in Heat history on Mar. 27, 2010, when he blew his top on referee Jamie Koharski during a game against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Video of Playfair snapping sticks and shedding his jacket became a viral hit on YouTube, generating well over a million views.
Reflecting on his time in Abbotsford, Playfair said it was positive in every respect.
“It was perfect for our family,” he said. “Our boys’ hockey careers really took off. They had great success in school, met a lot of great friends.
“Being from B.C. and being part of the very first AHL franchise in the province was great. The ownership treated us first class, and it was an excllent decision to make in my professional and personal life. I think the entire situation was very rewarding.”
On his way out the door, Playfair spoke highly of the Heat’s local ownership group.
“The owners in Abbotsford, they expect to win a Calder Cup at the end of the day,” he said. “And I’m sure they’ll do that.”
“We’re happy for him,” said Lane Sweeting, a member of the Heat’s ownership group. “We very much respect his passion for the game, and for Abbotsford and the Heat. We hate to lose him, but just like with our players, we know the AHL is a development league for coaches and referees as well. We wish him all the best.”
Monday’s announcement closed the book on Playfair’s 11-year tenure in the Calgary Flames organization. During the 2000-01 season, he led the Saint John Flames, Calgary’s AHL affiliate at the time, to a Calder Cup championship. He was promoted to the Flames staff as an assistant coach midway through the 2002-03 season, and served on the Calgary staff through the 2008-09 campaign, including a one-year stint as head coach in 2006-07.