AS far as learning curves go, Dominic Osman’s has been about as steep as it can get over the past few months.
Having been appointed as the successor to Andre Payette as player-coach for the Sheffield Steeldogs back in late April, the 33-year-old American had barely been in his new role for two months before he found himself taking up the same position for a brand new team.
It wasn’t just any team as far as Osman was concerned, however, the Hull Pirates were put together to fill the void left by the demise of the city’s Elite League club, Hull Stingrays, who folded after the 2014-15 season.
The attraction of returning to Hull was too much to resist for Osman, who made himself a firm favourite with Stingrays’ fans by scoring 121 points, including 64 goals in 186 games over the course of three seasons. In between there was a brief return to North America for the 2013-14 season, where he cut his teeth with some assistant coaching duties for Huntsville Havoc in the SPHL.
For a short while, the prospect of no ice hockey at Hull Arena was a real possibility, but it was Steeldogs’ owner Shane Smith who stepped in to take on the responsibility in early July.
This past week has seen Smith relinquish ownership of his South Yorkshire team in order to concentrate fully on developing Hull, the aim being to make the Pirates a potent force in the English Premier League, effectively the UK game’s second tier.
Not only is Osman player-coach but, as co-owner, he is fast learning the ropes from Smith regarding all the off-ice duties that are required to run a hockey club.
And, despite the long hours and early frustrations in terms of results, he is loving it.
“I’m learning lots as I go along,” said Osman. “But I haven’t really thought too much about the whole thing, there really hasn’t been time – we’ve just got on with it from the word go.
“Having played here for a few years when it was the Stingrays has been a huge help for me. I understand the passion of the fans here – they are amazing. It wasn’t a hard decision to come here again because with a club like Hull, a place like Hull, you can easily grow close to it.
“It was crucial that hockey survived in Hull and Shane now realises how much passion there is for the game here.”
Not surprisingly for Osman, it has been the proverbial baptism of fire in East Yorkshire, his team enduring a tough start to the season – so much so that, ahead of tonight’s visit from Manchester Phoenix, Hull are yet to secure a regulation win.
But overtime wins against Manchester and Peterborough, combined with points elsewhere, mean the Pirates are far from being cut adrift.
Given where they have come from in such a short space of time, Osman is realistic about what can be expected of his team, while optimistic about the long-term future of the club.
“We are improving steadily and making little adjustments as we go along,” he added.
“Ultimately we want to take this team towards the top of this league and stay up there, but it’s a gradual process. We know things are not going to happen overnight and the fans understand that and are behind us 100 per cent. We want to try and attract new fans and, as long as we keep moving forward both on and off the ice, we should be able to do that.”
Coaching was something Osman had long earmarked as a logical career move – running his own hockey schools back home in the USA having given him a taste of nurturing others.
In a hockey career stretching back 15 years, Osman has played for many coaches – including Sylvain Cloutier and Omar Pacha, at Stingrays. He hopes he can harness the positive aspects from all of his former mentors in order to forge a unique coaching identity of his own.
“All the coaches in my career have done something for me and my game,” said Osman. “I want to be able to create my own identity and I think you do that by feeling out what works best when you are in the room with your team.
“I am going to make mistakes, of course I am, I already have made mistakes this season but it’s all about being on a learning curve and I have learnt so, so much in the last few weeks.”