SYLVAIN CLOUTIER last night headed through the exit door at Hull Stingrays, bringing an end to five years in charge for the popular player-coach.
Both Cloutier and owner/assistant coach Bobby McEwan stressed the decision had been reached by “mutual consent”.
McEwan, who took the club over two years ago after it had spent the previous 24 months under the ownership of Elite League rivals Coventry Blaze, said the search for a new player-coach was already underway.
“I am looking to have that person in place as soon as possible as we build for next season,” said McEwan.
Cloutier will leave having elevated the expectation levels at Hull Arena during his time in charge, and last night cited securing a place in the final four play-off weekend at the end of the 2011-12 season as one of his most memorable achievements.
Last season the team posted a club record 52 points in the Elite League, before exiting in the first round of the playoffs with defeat to Belfast over two legs.
It was thought Cloutier was among the list of candidates for the coach’s job at Coventry, with the West Midlands club having brought in former Sheffield Steelers’ assistant Marc LeFebvre to replace Matt Soderstrom in February following a troubling campaign.
LeFebvre was able to get Blaze into the play-offs on the final night of the season, before seeing his team convincingly beaten by eventual play-off winners Sheffield in the first round of the post-season.
Regardless of that, LeFebvre remains in charge at Coventry for the next campaign, his appointment being announced 24 hours before Cloutier’s departure from Hull.
“I hope the fans know I always gave them 110 per cent and they are simply the best fans in the league and they have been like family to me,” said Cloutier.
“I have had five great years with the Stingrays and will take away with me a lot of memories, but it is now time to move on and start a new chapter in my life.”
Brought in by former owners Mike and Sue Pack, the arrival of Cloutier was seen as a huge coup for the East Yorkshire club – the 40-year-old Canadian bringing with him a wealth of experience, including a handful of NHL appearances and more than 550 games in the AHL, where he won the Calder Cup with Houston Aeros in 2003.
He also enjoyed a successful stint as a player in the Elite League with Coventry Blaze, winning two league titles and two cups in his two years there.
The chance to work as head coach at Corpus Christi Ice Rayz back took him back to North America just when it seemed he would be likely to return to Coventry for a third year.
But, after seven months, Cloutier was fired by the CHL outfit and, when the Packs opted not to retain long-serving Rick Strachan, Cloutier was quick to get his application in and was swiftly installed as the new coach at Hull in the Spring of 2009.
Forever operating on lower-end budgets, Hull’s underdog status never disappeared under Cloutier but, particularly in the last couple of years, he was able to fashion a team capable of realistically challenging for points every night – their quarter-final play-off success against Sheffield Steelers two years ago being the most obvious example of their potential.
Last season saw a number of records broken with many people believing it to be the best team to play under the Stingrays’ banner.
Every summer sees most EIHL clubs make wholesale changes to their rosters for the following season, but there was hope among Hull fans that maybe this would be one close season where more players than normal would be retained, including the likes of top scorers Guillaume Doucet and Jereme Tendler.
But, with Cloutier heading off to pastures new, that is even less likely to happen with whichever coach is brought in to replace him by McEwan, understandably wishing to build his own team.
“There have been changes of ownership and we have gone through a lot during my time here, which makes what we achieved as a group an even better accomplishment,” added Cloutier.
“We have also just had one of the best seasons this club has seen and no-one can take any of that away from me.”