Kelly new head Panther
Bryan Kelly is counting on history repeating itself.
The veteran coach, who had a good deal of success in Port Colborne a decade ago working with owner Tim Toffolo, has hooked up again with Toffolo, this time as the head coach of the Pelham Panthers.
“When Tim gave me the call, it’s the exact same situation when I first started in Port,” Kelly said. “They are coming off a season where they didn’t have the success they wanted and looking for a fresh start and able to start from scratch and see if we’re able to have magic in a bottle twice.”
Before taking over as head coach at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Kelly served as an assistant under Keith Osborne, who went on to coach in Welland.
Toffolo feels Kelly is the perfect fit for the job.
“Bryan was with me in Port Colborne and we had great success,” Toffolo said. “I really appreciate Bryan as a coach. We worked really well together.”
Toffolo said he felt he would work with Kelly again when the time was right.
“It’s always been something that I knew at some point having somebody like Bryan was what I wanted. When you get someone who has coached for you and done that well and you see eye-to-eye, I was going to have to find someone like Bryan again or see when Bryan was interested again.
“We’ve been talking for quite a while but with COVID and everything else, the timing just didn’t fit. This time it’s the right time to have Bryan back and get back to what we were doing before.”
Kelly also spent time in Thorold after his stint in Port Colborne before getting out of coaching for five years due to job commitments. In February of 2017, the Blackhawks announced they were ceasing operations for the remainder of the season due to inability to sustain a full roster with eight games remaining in the season.
“Let’s be honest, the way the ownership situation deteriorated in Thorold it made it almost impossible,” Kelly said. “That kind of left a bit of a sour taste. It was a bad situation and time to get out of there.”
But Kelly missed the game.
“When you’re away from the game and working full time you really start to miss the camaraderie with the kids and in the room and with the coaching staff and you miss the competitiveness,” he said.
Kelly was out of the loop and wasn’t even sure where the new Pelham arena was when Toffolo contacted him.
“I came down to meet and took a tour and was blown away. It’s first class and when you start adding it all up and seeing if I could make it work, it made sense,” he said. “I’m happy to be back.”
Kelly follows Chris Lukey and Chris and Carson Johnstone behind the Pelham bench over the past few seasons.
Toffolo said he would prefer some stability in the coaching staff.
“It’s really important to have that, no question,” he said. “With COVID, it’s been rough for everybody to adjust to different things. Let’s face it, in this league, most of the teams, the owner is the coach. I’ve stepped in a few times here and there but I do too many other things to be able to concentrate on that.
“Getting somebody where you understand each other is really important. It’s been tough but Bryan and I understand each other and we know what type of players we look for and want. We’re on the same page with that kind of stuff.”
Assisting Kelly will be Craig Slack, Brock Yantzi, Alex Grutill and Brayden Stortz.
The Panthers, who finished in sixth place with a 14-32-3 mark last season, open the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season Saturday, Sept. 10 in Caledonia. Their home opener is versus the Niagara Falls Canucks Sunday Sept. 11 at 2:30 p.m.
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