The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced the hiring of Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds head coach Sheldon Keefe, to take over the bench duties of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.
The news comes of no surprise to many; this has been highly speculated about for the better part of the past ten months, and has been considered all but a guarantee since mid-May, when the Marlies fired their coaching staff following a season where they actually exceeded expectations.
Keefe, who is just 34 years old, comes to town with a lot of hype attached to him. This year, he was the recipient of the OHL and CHL’s Coach of the Year awards, for his efforts in leading the Greyhounds to a franchise-best 54-12-0-2 record, while having the highest win percentage and most goals for in junior hockey. The team advanced to the OHL’s Eastern Conference Finals before losing to Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters in six games.
This capped off a run of nearly three seasons where Keefe coached the Greyhounds, joining the team midway through the 2012/13 season. Keefe was a hire of Leafs assistant / Marlies GM Kyle Dubas, which is another reason for the lack of surprise here. Prior to his time in Major Junior, Keefe lead the Pembroke Lumber Kings to five consecutive CCHL (Junior A) Championships, one of which lead to an RBC Cup, awarded to the best Junior A team in the country.
While many saw this pairing as a forgone conclusion, things weren’t particularly set in stone. Keefe had multiple options along the process, including sticking with the Greyhounds and other American Hockey League teams. Conversely, Kris Knoblauch was also approached for the job. There has been no word yet as to whether Gord Dineen will stick around with the team in a lesser role.