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Matt O’Dette ready for challenge of being head coach

KENT – The Seattle Thunderbirds have their man after announcing Wednesday that Matt O’Dette will be the club’s new head coach.

Its been a bit of a whirlwind summer for O’Dette, who will become the franchise’s 17th head coach. A month ago he was preparing for the upcoming season, looking to once again be an assistant to Steve Konowalchuk. The now former T-Birds head coach left the franchise on June 28 for a job with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, leaving the club looking for a replacement.

O’Dette was interested, but was also on a much needed summer vacation.

“The timing of it was a little awkward,” O’Dette said of the change. “I left town for a 10-day vacation but I had an opportunity to speak with (general manager Russ Farwell) before I left and he said I was a top candidate. It got on hold for a while as I was gone but we followed up a few times and when I got back it came to fruition. I’m thankful to him for this opportunity and thankful for Steve for bringing me on board four years ago and making me part of the staff.”

O’Dette joined the Thunderbirds in the summer of 2013 after spending two seasons as the head coach and director of hockey operations for the ECHL’s Bakersfeild Condors.

The ECHL is a lower-level professional league and O’Dette had to do more than just coach. He had to be the general manager, recruit players and arrange the team’s travel. That wasn’t the best atmosphere to hone his coaching chops, as there were just too many hats to wear.

“I think deep down I always wanted to be at the junior level,” he said. “There’s something about working with the younger players that’s appealing. I was pretty raw when I took that job in Bakersfield, I had only had one year of coaching under the belt. I learned a lot; you grow up fast. You learn to handle adversity and six years from then, here I am again. I’ve grown a lot from then and am much more prepared this time to be a head coach.”

With Seattle, O’Dette was in charge of the team’s defense and penalty kill. As a former defenseman who played in the OHL and suited up for 663 games in the ECHL and AHL, it was a good fit.

Under O’Dette’s care, the Thunderbirds have been one of the better defensive clubs in the WHL over the past four years. The last three seasons have seen Seattle finish in the top-four in goals-allowed while the last two years it has had a top-three penalty-kill unit.

On top of that, two defenseman, Shea Theodore in 2015 and Ethan Bear in 2017, were named the top defensemen in the league. He says that there is definitely pride in seeing his players achieve success but was quick to give the lion’s share of the credit to the work the players put into it.

He’s been a big part of the recent success the Thunderbirds have experienced and he says he has learned a great deal working with Konowalchuk. Most importantly, he’s learned how to set high standards.

“I think the biggest thing I learned from Steve was he had his standards, they were very high,” he said. “He had his values and he never wavered from them at all, he always stuck to his guns. No matter if you’re a top player or a rookie coming up, you had to maintain that standard. Everything that anyone got was earned.”

While a different personality than Konowalchuk, O’Dette will offer the team some continuity and consistency.

He doesn’t expect that the style of hockey the Thunderbirds play will change too drastically.

“The blueprint for style of play we’ve used works, we’ve proved that,” O’Dette says. “The in-your-face, abrasive, heavy, physical type game is always going to be a staple that we want to have. But at the same time there will be more emphasis on the offensive side of the game, I think that’s where the game is nowadays. Speed, skill, transitioning, all that stuff is important. We need to be cutting edge.”

The first order of business for O’Dette is to hire a couple of assistants to round out his staff. Tyler Alos, who has been an assistant for the past four years, has opted to pursue a non-hockey opportunity, according to the team. That means that O’Dette will be looking for two new guys to step in.

With defense being O’Dette’s main area of focus he says that the preference would be to bring in someone with some offensive background but that ultimately, the right fit is of the most importance.

The Thunderbirds will be a different looking squad this coming season. They have lost a great deal of firepower up front and the junior hockey cycle will force them to have to rely on younger and greener players. O’Dette likes that challenge and says it should make next month’s training camp more interesting.

“Training camp is going to be exciting and there are a lot of opportunities on the table,” the coach said. “It’s pretty wide open, which is fun, and as coaches it’s going to be exciting to work with those young guys. If you’re coming to camp as a forward with the T-birds, you’re probably pretty excited.”

O’Dette has spent four years with the Thunderbirds and now gets his chance to take the reins. He’s looking forward to the season and is grateful that this chance has come with a team and area that he has enjoyed.

“The Pacific Northwest, you can’t beat it,” he said. “I remember coming here for my interview and got a tour of the facility, I had never seen a better junior set up. The fan base … it fires up the players to play in front of such a passionate fan base. You get goose bumps sometimes playing in this atmosphere.”