Mark Holick is no longer head coach of the Prince George Cougars.
Despite the fact Holick had one more year left on his contract, with an option to extend for another, his ties with the Western Hockey League team were severed on Tuesday. Cougars general manager Todd Harkins, and Holick himself, said the decision was a mutual one.
"We did a full evaluation of our organization, from the ownership down," Harkins said. "I personally did our staff and our players and, through that process, (Holick and I) talked about the pros and cons of the season. We agreed and disagreed on some things and at the end of the day Mark and I decided that it was best if we parted ways mutually. He'll pursue hockey away from Prince George and we're going to find the best possible candidate moving forward.
"He said he was going to try to find something in the hockey world," Harkins added. "He's been everywhere from the American Hockey League into the NHL and back to the Western Hockey League so I'm sure he'll land on his feet somewhere and be very successful wherever he goes."
Holick, 47, echoed the words of Harkins regarding the decision.
"Three-and-a-half years here, and I've got no hard feelings," he said. "Greg (Pocock) and the ownership group treated me great, Todd treated me good. Everything was rainbows and lollipops. It was just time.
"When both groups sit down at the end of the year and you go through expectations, this kind of came up and we just agreed to part ways."
Holick said he has "no idea" what's next for him, only that he wants to continue to coach.
"We'll see what the next challenge is," he said. "Love P.G., love living here – my family's here and we've met a lot of great people here. I have a lot of time for the city and the organization and there's no rush to get out, that's for sure."
During his time behind the Cougars' bench, Holick posted an overall record of 101-121-3-17.
Last season, the Cats went 31-36-0-5 and made the playoffs for the first time in four years. But, in a first-round, best-of-seven series, they bowed out to the Victoria Royals in five games.
This season, the Cougars were among the best teams in the WHL before Christmas. As of Dec. 20, they had a 20-10-1-1 record and garnered an honourable mention in the Canadian Hockey League rankings. But, after Christmas, the club fell into a prolonged slump and finished the schedule with a mark of 16-21-2-1 for an overall record of 36-31-3-2. In playoffs, the Cougars weren't able to get back on track and were swept by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the first round.
Harkins didn't directly link the team's performance in the latter part of the season to the departure of Holick.
"Mark and I and the staff talked about (the team's struggles) from after Christmas on, daily, figuring out how to move this forward and move into the playoffs in the right direction," Harkins said.
"Even after, when we evaluated the pros and cons of the whole season, we discussed that at length – how we can change things, how we can do things differently and what we can do to have success moving forward in the playoffs. Again, through those comments and meetings, that's when Mark and I started talking about different directions for the organization. It's important that everyone knows that this was between me and him, that we decided to part ways.
"I know that Mark is a great man and he cares about those kids (on the team). He did everything he could to let them have success individually and to win hockey games."
Holick – brought on board by former general manager Dallas Thompson when Rick Brodsky was still owner of the Cougars – was hired to replace the fired Dean Clark on Jan. 23, 2013. When a new ownership group assumed control in the spring of 2014, Holick expressed interest in taking on the dual role of head coach and general manager. However, the general manager's job went to Harkins instead.
At that time, Holick was still under contract for two years and the new owners – represented locally by Pocock, the team's governor and president – inked him to an extension that could have taken him through the 2017-18 season.
"We think Mark is our guy and is the right guy," Pocock said at the time. "It made sense for him to relocate his family (from Penticton) and we're showing our support with another two years on top of his contract."
Pocock, who was not made available for comment on Tuesday, also said the team was "transparent with Mark and Todd" throughout the process of finding the new GM. Because of the handling of the situation, Holick was fine with how things turned out.
"I'm excited to get it over with and move forward," he told The Citizen that spring. "Greg was always upfront about (the hiring process) and I feel more secure."
Before he arrived in Prince George, Holick already had excellent hockey credentials. He started out in the B.C. Hockey League as an assistant with the South Surrey Eagles in 1996-97 and, as Eagles head coach in 1997-98, led the team to a Royal Bank Cup national junior A championship. Later in his career, he guided the WHL's Kootenay Ice for three seasons (2007-08 to 2009-10) and posted an overall record of 120-75-0-21. In 2009-10, he was named WHL coach of the year. Holick then moved up to the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch (head coach for one full season and part of another) and, later, did some scouting for the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL.
As for who will be the next coach of the Cougars – the 11th in Prince George history – Harkins said he had already received "a flood" of emails by Tuesday afternoon.
"We're going to search far and wide and we're going to use our contacts in the hockey world to find the best coach possible," he said. "We've got a great group of kids here and we want to make sure that we get the best communicator, best coach – someone who has leadership qualities and is able to be in tune with the junior player of today's age."
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW
After three years at the helm of the Prince George Cougars, head coach Mark Holick is no longer with the team.
The team announced Tuesday afternoon it had "mutually parted ways" with Holick.
“The entire Prince George Cougars organization would like to thank Mark and the entire Holick family for their dedication and for contributing to the growth and improvement of our franchise and the development of our players both on the ice and in the community,” said Todd Harkins, Cougars General Manager, in a statement.
“The Cougars improved in each of the past three seasons with Mark behind the bench and his contributions will continue to be felt as we pursue a championship.”
The Cougars hired Holick in January 2013, making him the tenth person to earn the Prince George title. He signed a three-year deal when he first joined the team – in 2014, after the team changed hands, Holick’s contract was extended throught the 2017-2018 season. Holick's overall record was 101-119-8-12 after 240 games with the team.
Before Prince George, he coached the Kootenay Ice from 2007 to 2010 before making the leap to the professional ranks with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League from 2010 until January 2012.
He was also an alternative coach with the Anaheim Ducks affiliate in Syracuse and scouted for the team.
The search for the new head coach begins immediately, the release said.
More to come.