By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
Don Nachbaur spent Wednesday night behind the Spokane Chiefs’ bench during a WHL game at Interior Savings Centre.
Had things worked out differently, he may have been behind the bench of the home team, the Kamloops Blazers.
Nachbaur admitted last night that he was “close . . . real close” to signing on as the Blazers’ head coach during the summer of 2008.
The Blazers, in their first season under private ownership, had run through two coaches in 2007-08, having started with Dean Clark and finished with Greg Hawgood.
Craig Bonner had been named general manager and was looking to hire his first head coach.
His list of candidates included the likes of Marc Habscheid, who then was unemployed; Brad Berry, an assistant at the U of North Dakota; Eric Thurston, the head coach of the U of Alberta Golden Bears; and, Barry Smith, who had lost his job on the Vancouver Canucks’ coaching staff.
And then there was Nachbaur, who had one year left on his contract as head coach of the Tri-City Americans.
“We met with him at the NHL draft in Ottawa,” Bonner said. “We were very serious about him.”
“I was very serious about it, and I think they were very serious about having me,” Nachbaur, 51, said, adding that his decision to stay with the Americans for a sixth season “was based on my family.”
“It was not financial,” he said. “I had a year left on my contract. And with my family and uprooting them and the dynamics of the team I was going to have in Tri-City and where I could go from that experience, it all led me to stay.”
That single decision, or non-decision, resulted in an amazing number of dominoes falling.
The Blazers, of course, hired Barry Smith, who was let go early in the second season of his contract. He eventually was replaced by Guy Charron, who is under contract through next season.
Nachbaur and the Americans went 49-20-0-3, winning their second straight U.S. Division pennant before bowing out in the second round of playoffs.
His contract up, he signed with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators as head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton, N.Y., Senators.
Jim Hiller, who had been fired after three seasons as head coach of the Chilliwack Bruins, was hired to replace Nachbaur with the Americans.
Then, after the 2009-10 season, Nachbaur resigned.
Spokane president Bobby Brett and general manager Tim Speltz made the decision not to re-sign head coach Hardy Sauter. Instead, they signed Nachbaur.
“The team won in Tri-City and that gave me an opportunity to move on to the pro level,” Nachbaur said. His decision to resign after one season in Binghamton, he said, “had nothing to do with the hockey side, at all. I was treated really well in Ottawa.”
Rather, he said, it all came down to family. His son, Daniel, is at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame and a daughter is going to college on the West Coast.
“I went through a year (without my family) last season,” Nachbaur said. “I didn’t want to look back at 65 or 70 years old and say I wasn’t there for my kids.
“This way, I get to see my kids and that’s a big part of my life.”
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