Yesterday, The New Jersey Devils announced the appointments of Rick Kowalsky and Mike Grier as assistant coaches for the upcoming 2018-2019 season. Both will be taking over vacant spots caused by the departures of Geoff Ward, who is now an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames, and Ryan Clowe, who was hired as head coach of the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers. Kowalsky and Grier were brought in to help the Devils take the next step after their encouraging results last season. In this piece, we’ll review how significant, well-deserved, and earned these opportunities are for both individuals.
Simply put, Kowalsky has paid his dues in the Devils organization and is more than deserving of this promotion. He’s been with the Devils organization for 11 years, which consisted of coaching stints with team affiliates in Trenton (ECHL) and Albany/Binghamton (AHL). It’s worth noting Kowalsky is one of the few remaining members in the organization whose role has been the same dating back to the Lamoriello years, which should certainly say a lot about his character (especially considering how Shero implemented a major staffing overhaul after Lamoriello left the organization). Kowalsky shares a similarity with Head Coach John Hynes in that they are both recipients of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award, which is the AHL equivalent of the NHL’s Jack Adams Award. Considering that Geoff Ward was also a recipient for this award, it shows Kowalsky is a worthy replacement to fill that coaching void created by Ward’s departure. Kowalsky also ran the Devils development camps in recent years, and spent time with a lot of current and upcoming Devils players and prospects. Kowalsky fits the mold for what John Hynes wanted in terms of a coach who could get the most out of his players that they could also could relate to, since Kowalsky worked with many Devils players on the current roster. Kowalsky is a former player and although never made in the NHL, forged a decorated career in the ECHL, with some playing time in the AHL.
The hiring of Mike Grier came completely out of left field, especially considering his lack of professional coaching experience. Grier played 14 seasons in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, and San Jose Sharks after originally being drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1993. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Grier also played college hockey at Boston University prior to joining the NHL ranks. Like Kowalsky, Grier also fits the mold for what Hynes was looking for in his assistants, but could also help build good connections with the Devils’more tenured players. This is Grier’s first NHL coaching job, which does have some historical context worth noting. Mike Grier will be only the NHL’s tenth coach of African-American heritage (in any capacity) in any capacity, and just the third to be head or assistant of a team. This is an important step forward not just for the league as a whole, but growth of the game envisioned by NHL ambassadors like Willie O’Ree. Grier will be another solid strong voice behind the bench for the Devils.