Dave Lowry wasn’t somebody that was really on anyone’s radar when Vancouver’s head coaching job opened up. That is, until reports began to surface that the Victoria Royals’ bench boss had been in contact with the Canucks for several weeks.
— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) April 14, 2017
Lowry’s resume certainly stacks up against his competition. In his five seasons behind the Royals’ bench, he’s won the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy as coach of the year twice. Prior to his time with the Royals, he spent time with the Calgary Flames and the WHL Calgary Hitmen as an assistant coach.
Lowry may seem like an interesting choice given that the Royals took a significant step back this season. After a first-place finish in 2015-16, the Royals closed out this season as the eighth seed in the WHL’s Western Conference, finishing with a 37-29-5-1 record. His performance as the Head Coach of Canada’s World Junior team in 2016 doesn’t instil confidence either, despite winning gold the previous year as an assistant to Benoit Groulx. Looking solely at the past year or so likely undersells his abilities as a coach, however.
Lowry dealt with more than his fair share of issues in Victoria this season. From day one, it was evident the Royals would take a step back. Starting goaltender Coleman Vollrath and leading scorer Alex Forsberg aged out of the WHL while their number one defenseman Joe Hicketts earned a spot with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins.
Then the injury bug struck, as the team spent significant parts of the season without newly appointed number one defenceman Chaz Reddekopp and forwards Tyler Soy and Vladimir Bobylev. The team also met with a mumps outbreak towards the end of the season that coincided with the beginning of their playoff series against the Everett Silvertips.
In short, despite battling a public health risk and spending a significant portion of their season without two-thirds of their NHL-affiliated talent from the prior season, the Royals still managed to push the WHL’s stingiest team to six games, the final of which clocked in as the longest in Canadian Hockey League history.
As a resident of Victoria, the only team I’ve seen play more than the Royals over the past half a decade is the Canucks themselves, so I have to admit to a slight bias, but I can see why the Canucks might be interested. I can’t speak too much to the system the Royals employ, not only because I simply don’t possess the requisite amount of training required to pick out systemic quirks, but also because the Royals don’t employ any techniques that make them stand out too terribly from other WHL teams. They play a style that emphasizes speed and aggressive forechecking, but I’d say that likely has more to do with personnel than any of Lowry’s preferences.
Lowry has garnered a reputation as someone with a bit of an old-school approach, but to his credit, he traditionally hasn’t been afraid to take calculated risks when necessary. Dante Hannoun is quite possibly the smallest hockey player I have ever seen in person, but Lowry isn’t afraid to deploy him alongside fellow small skilled forward Matthew Phillips or double-shift either player if the team is in need of a goal. On the other hand, this may be more out of necessity than preference. It’s almost impossible to say.
There’s so much of coaching that fans and the media simply aren’t privy to, given the nature of the position. Motivation and personality management are nebulous concepts at best, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. In an interview with dubnetwork.ca from October, Royals’ leading scorer Matthew Phillips had this to say regarding Lowry’s attitude towards his players:
Dave is a coach who wants the best for every player on the roster. He has high expectations for players and knows how to get the best out of his guys. Dave’s knowledge is incredible; he is someone who seems to know the answer to any question you may have (hockey or not) and has a great understanding of the right way to play the game. It is no fluke he has won WHL coach of the year two of the last three seasons. I’m very thankful he’s coached the Royals since I was drafted here and I’m very fortunate that I get to learn from him every day.
It’s the type of stock answer any media-trained person would give when asked to evaluate a superior, but given the position the Canucks find themselves in, it might behoove them to have somebody behind the bench with a teacher’s mentality, and someone who has experience dealing with and getting the most out of young players. In this regard, he may even be preferable to ostensible front-runner Travis Green.
If the Canucks are married to Green as Head Coach, they may be interested in tapping Lowry as his replacement in Utica, or perhaps bringing him into the fold in an Assistant’s role. No matter what the case, given his record, it makes sense that the Canucks would want him in their system if they truly have their eye on the future.