The Fort Wayne Komets have selected Pat Bingham as the 25th coach in the team's 55-year history. Bingham, 37, edged out John Marks to replace Greg Puhalski who recently became coach of the United Hockey League's Chicago Hounds.
Komets General Manager David Franke said it was the toughest of the eight coaching choices he's had to make since his family bought the team in 1990.
Both Bingham and Marks, 58, were tremendously qualified. Bingham was recently let go as an assistant coach with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League when his contract was not renewed. The Sound Tigers' NHL parent club, the New York Islanders, recently made changes in management staff which wanted their own minor league coaches.
More than likely, the first thing Bingham did after hearing the news was to jump on the phone to start recruiting players.
``That's just what he does,'' said Jim Brooks, co-owner of Wheeling of the East Coast Hockey League where Bingham coached for two years. ``All day, all night, he's is always thinking how he's going to make his team better, whether it's now or in the future. He understands what it takes.''
Before Bingham took over, the Nailers had not made the playoffs for five straight seasons. He replaced mentor John Brophy and led Wheeling to a 51-17-4 record in 2003-04 to win ECHL Coach of the Year honors. Before he got there, the Nailers had never won more than 37 games in a season.
``As a player he was a hard nosed, really, really tough guy,'' Brophy said. ``He played hockey first and if something had to happen he took care of it. He would do the same as coach. The players liked him a lot because he worked hard for them. I think he's perfect for this day and age.''
Another factor for Bingham in the process was his knowledge of the UHL. He coached Asheville to a division title and the 2001 Colonial Cup Finals and led Adirondack to a 92-point season in 2002-03.
``He has a worth ethic that is second-to-none, and 10-15 years he'll be in the NHL as a head coach,'' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Chief Executive Officer Jeff Barrett. ``He knows the game and busts his butt to make sure he gets the most out of his players. A lot of it is about recruiting and contacts and he works harder at that than anybody I've ever seen. If I had a job open here, I'd sign him.''
Bingham's career record is 215-123-9 as a head coach, and his teams are known for their toughness and high skill level.
``You have to have an element of toughness, but you can't sacrifice skill,'' he said early in the coaching search. ``If you are really doing your homework and working hard at recruiting, you can find those players. You can't have too many soft, skilled guys, either, but you have to be able to play it both ways. You have to be tough enough to go with them if they want to play that way and skilled enough to play with the skill teams."
His Asheville team had 12 players with 100 or more penalty minutes, but also 13 players with 10 or more goals. Adirondack had even more toughness, and five players who scored 30 goals or more. A defenseman, Bingham played seven years in Class AA hockey, so he understands what the players want. During his two years in Wheeling, 13 of his players each season advanced to the AHL.