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Wings associate coach Tom Renney keeps busy during NHL lockout helping Nelson Leafs

Detroit Red Wings coach Tom Renney has been busy most nights prior to Leaf practice signing autographs at the NDCC Arena for young minor hockey players. — Bruce Fuhr photo

The news has been out circulating around the NDCC Arena for some time that Detroit Red Wings coach Tom Renney was assisting at Nelson Leafs.

But the opportunity to rub shoulders with a person with National Hockey League rink-side credentials never gets stale to players young and old.

Renney, along with hockey fans right across North American, is waiting for the next shoe to drop in the current NHL labour dispute.

To bide his time the former Edmonton Oiler skipper decided to volunteer his time with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League franchise.

And the response, from the Leafs and the crowd of minor hockey players milling around in the hallway outside the dressing room of the Green and White nightly looking for that favourite stick, shirt or hat to get autographed by Tom Renney, has been nothing short of amazing.

“It’s definitely a great perk for our team,” said Leaf winger Dustin Reimer prior to stepping onto the ice for practice.

“I know everyone doesn’t like the NHL lockout but it’s good to see us get something out of it.”

“It was pretty cool the first day Tom came out . . . everyone was a little nervous to have him out,” Leaf captain Colton Schell explained.

“But it’s gotten better every time. He runs a great practice and has given us good ideas and everyone loves him.”

Renney, of course, would like nothing better than to be at the Joe Louis Arena after agreeing during the summer on a three-year deal as Mike Babcock’s associate coach.

But the NHL lockout got in his way.

So Renney, who got his start in the 80s on the coaching staff of the former Rossland Warriors, decided to return to his roots.

“My wife (Glenda) and I have a home here and spend a good chuck of the summer here and knowing what was coming down the pipe with the (NHL) lockout, I made contact with Bill McDonnell, asking Bill if he thought Frank would have a problem with me helping out,” Renney, 57, said from outside the Leaf coaching room.

“Whether it was push pucks or sit in the stands, it didn't matter and Frank was real interested in having me.”

Renney, who has coached internationally for Canada, won a Memorial Cup with Kamloops of the Western Hockey League and has been behind the bench with no less than three NHL clubs before the Red Wings, has been with the Leafs for the past three weeks.

He helps with practice and has even attended a few games to watch the team in action.

“It’s great that he’s helping out the team,” Reimer confessed. “He’s changed up our practices a bit with higher intensity. Everybody seems to like it.”

“His new practice method has us going for 50 minutes. He runs four drills and we just go hard for the entire time,” Schell said.

“Everyone’s really keen on that and works really hard in practice. No one takes it off, and that’s good.”

After playing in college and graduating with a physical education major, Renney opened a clothing store in Trail. It was in the Home of Champions that he started coaching in the KIJHL, first with Rossland Warriors and finally with Columbia Valley Rockies.

In Inveremere, the Cranbrook native raised the ire of local Leaf fans as he coached the Rockies to the KIJHL title over the Nelson Maple Leafs, coached by the duo of Ted Hargreaves and Gary McQuaid.

So cutting his teeth in the KIJHL made it an easy decision to help the Junior B team.

“We all want to coach at a level we’re most accustomed to but the good thing about this situation is I really started in the KIJHL,” said Renney, hopeful the latest offer put forth by the owners is enough to kick start talks and get the league up and running soon.

“I think this is a message where we can never forget where we came from and we really don’t get anywhere by ourselves.

“And to be able to circle back and pay attention to my start is maybe a subliminal message to all of this.”

Depending on who you talk to or which sports network or website people  watch or read, the NHL could be back on the ice, well, by November 2 if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has his way.

For Renney, this dispute is a lot different from the last one.

“It was a good day (Tuesday), I think, for the National Hockey League,” he said.

“What’s been good is the leaders of the respective groups have always stayed on the job and never held the fans hostage,” Renney explains.

“They’ve always given us hope because of the continuous dialogue that they were going to work at it and today was certainly a step in the right direction.”

For the Leafs, Tuesday’s surprise announcement by the NHL was met with mixed emotions.

On one hand, the players would like nothing better to watch the likes of Crosby and the Sedins rip up the NHL ice.

But on the other side of the coin, their new assistant coach will be gone as soon as the ink is dry on the new agreement between the players and owners.

“We were talking about that earlier today with the news of the owners offer that we’ll sure miss Tom if the lockout ends,” Schell said.

“If Tom has to go back, that would suck . . . hopefully Tom will come visit us during the season,” Schell adds.

That’s probably not going to happen Colton.

But it sure was fun while it lasted.