July 17, 2011

The next rung is Portland

The new coach of the Pirates is a worker who continues to pay his dues while climbing the pro hockey ladder.

By Rachel Lenzi rlenzi@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Somewhere in his suburban Dallas home, Daryl Reaugh has videotapes of a television broadcast from a 1994 ECHL playoff game.

click image to enlarge

Ray Edwards has gone through pro hockey’s hinterlands, and now is in a traditional market as the Pirates’ coach.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

At the end of his playing career with the Dayton Bombers, Reaugh started doing play-by-play of the team's games. When his teammate, Ray Edwards, became injured, Edwards was called on to add color commentary.

Edwards, Reaugh said, wasn't the most refined broadcaster. But he did possess a certain perspective for elements of the game that may have gone unnoticed by others.

"His insight was great," said Reaugh, now a color commentator for the Dallas Stars and for NHL games on Versus. "And it's been interesting to follow what he's done since then."

Edwards' career didn't culminate in a broadcast booth. Instead it wound through the hinterlands of hockey, where he did everything from selling tickets to recruiting players.

It was on that path that he came to a career crossroads in West Virginia in 1998.

He had to decide which was worth more: keep chasing the dream of playing in the National Hockey League, or accept a coaching job offered by the owner of the ECHL's Huntington Blizzard.

The offer was a sign.

"When those things happened, I realized I didn't have anything to fall back on," Edwards said. "I sought out the front office and said, 'If there's anything I can do, can I do it?' I knew this was a chance for me to learn and to grow."

Thirteen years later, on June 27, the Portland Pirates named Edwards as the seventh coach in their 18-year history.

The Phoenix Coyotes moved their minor league operations from San Antonio to Portland -- a traditional hockey market, compared to the path that Edwards, 41, has traveled.

"It will be fun to be a little bit more under the microscope," said Edwards, who coached the San Antonio Rampage the last two seasons.

"I'm going to embrace that whole process. You're not in Vancouver or Toronto, but you're in a potent hockey market. I'm looking forward to building on the tradition they have in Portland."

MAN OF MANY JOBS

For Edwards, the physical cost of chasing the hockey dream was steep.

One season he was kicked in the face and suffered a shattered jaw. Another season, a debilitating shoulder injury. Yet another season, torn ligaments in his ankle.

When he chose to end his playing career, Edwards had nothing to fall back on when it came to his future. But others saw a future.

"When you played with Ray, you saw that he was going to be a successful coach," said Derek Schooley, who was Edwards' teammate in Huntington from 1994-96. "He taught the game really well and he played it with a tremendous amount of passion. He was a player who put the team first."

In his first year playing for Dayton, Edwards missed four months with an injury. Coach Claude Noel -- who now coaches the Winnipeg Jets and who offered Edwards a job as an assistant coach, which he turned down last week -- began assigning Edwards off-ice responsibilities.

"It wasn't a whole lot," Edwards said, "but it was enough to get my interest sparked. I thought, 'I need to continue doing this to learn it.' I learned a little bit from every guy I worked with and played with."

By the time he joined the Blizzard, Edwards juggled roles. He was a player and an assistant coach. He recruited players and scouted them. When he wasn't on skates, he worked in the box office and marketing department, selling season-ticket packages and promoting the Blizzard in the community, more than 250 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, the closest NHL city.

(Continued on page 2)

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