FORMER Coventry Blaze captain Sylvain Cloutier has been handed the difficult task of leading Hull Stingrays to their first-ever Elite League play-offs appearance.
The 35-year-old Canadian has been appointed player-coach of the East Yorkshire club on a two-year contract, replacing Rick Strachan whose six-year spell at the helm ended last month after again missing out on the end-of-season play-offs.
Citing financial reasons behind the decision to remove Strachan, owner Mike Pack has taken on the day-to-day managerial duties, paving the way for a player-coach to come in and replace Strachan, something achieved with the appointment of Cloutier, who now has ample time to build a competitive squad for next season's nine-team league.
"I am extremely excited to be the player-coach at Hull for the next two seasons," said Cloutier.
"I feel with working alongside Mike and Sue Pack we will be able to put together a very competitive team on the ice for next season.
"The fans should be very excited for the upcoming season with all the changes we hope to make in order to make the team succeed. I look forward to meeting the fans of Hull."
Pack said once they were aware of Cloutier's interest, it quickly becme apparent he was the best candidate for the post.
"We are really happy to have found the right man for the job so quickly," he said.
"It gives him the most available time to build a squad for next season. He is a great player and has great leadership skills and it didn't take very long to get the deal done."
Cloutier brings a wealth of experience into Hull with him, including seven NHL appearances for Chicago Blackhawks in 1998-99 and more than 500 AHL appearances for clubs including the Adirondack Red Wings and the Albany River Rats.
But it's his two seasons with Coventry each producing an Elite League title that may well prove more valuable to him come September.
It will be the former Blaze centre's second coaching appointment, after he retired from playing last summer to take up the position of head coach of Corpus Christi Ice Rays in the Central Hockey League.
But, after a promising start, he was unexpectedly fired in February with 14 games of the regular season to go and with the team sitting only one point behind play-off rivals Arizona. The team eventually made the play-offs where they went out to Rio Grande Valley.
Cloutier was baffled by the management's decision at the time and will arrive in Hull fuelled by a desire to prove he has what it takes to be a successful coach.
Following his dismissal, Cloutier told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times: "Someone wasn't happy with the way I was doing things. But I'm happy with what I did and I'm proud of my players.
"I'm just sad I didn't get a fair kick at the can. I still don't think I got a fair chance to finish my job and have a chance to get a fresh start in the summer.
"I've been a winner all my life and I don't take this as losing. I take it as a first experience and, hopefully, I'll get another (chance) at it.
"I'll be hungrier and will want to prove some people wrong."