Dale Purinton just may have been one of the most well-travelled hockey players that one could find. But after a 13-year professional hockey career, the former New York Rangers defenceman has finally settled down in the Cowichan Valley and assumed a new role as the Capitals? bench boss.
?I lived in the United States for the majority of my time as a player, but we would always come back in the summer, and obviously Vancouver Island is a beautiful place to live and a nice place to raise a family, so it was fitting,? says Purinton, who was brought aboard as the team?s head coach in October after working in player development during the 2008/09 campaign.
Time on the road has made up a large part of Purinton?s life, not only in pursuit of his own hockey dreams but also his father?s. Purinton was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana where his dad played for the International Hockey League?s Komets before the family moved to Sicamous when he was four years old. But that marked only the beginning of his distant travels.
The117th overall selection in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft seemingly played everywhere and in every league imaginable ? from donning the classic Rangers blue in 181 NHL games to playing for their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers when his pro career began. Even as a junior player, Purington played in four different cities for a trio of WHL teams, including a two-year stop in Lethbridge where he helped the Hurricanes reach the 1997 Memorial Cup final.
However, after signing with the Colorado Avalanche in2007 and joining the Lake Erie Monsters for another stint in the AHL, Purinton decided to hang up the skates to focus on family life as a husband and as a father to three young boys.
?Sometimes you?ve got to look at the situation and say, ?Hey, I could keep going,? or you put your family first. I got to reach a place where I wanted to and I got to live my dream. At that point you say, ?I?m super happy with everything I?ve accomplished and now every decision I need to make is about my family.?
The opportunity he?s landed in Cowichan Valley has allowed him to stay close to home and closely connected to the game. It couldn?t have worked out any better for the rookie head coach who says his style doesn?t at all resemble the enforcer role he played as a feisty defenseman for so many years.
?As we all know, the game has changed significantly since I played and through to the lockout (in 2004) so you have to evolve,? he says. ?If you want,you can just play [tough], but that?s not the way I do things as a coach. You need to have a physical team, but fighting is on the way out.?
Purinton, however, does believe that being an enforcer and having to work harder throughout his career to earn ice time has helped him make the transition behind the Capitals? bench.
?The time that I put in as a player, being in video rooms and being exposed to so many different coaches and their systems and styles and the fundamentals of the game, you learn a lot that way. If you don?t,you?ll find yourself in the stands or not on the team.?
And in situations that are new to Purinton, he knows he can rely on a depth of experience and talent from within the Capitals organization. While former NHLer Doug Bodger is no longer a staple on the bench, he assists with recruiting for the franchise. Mike Barrie, an assistant coach who played 14 years of pro hockey and whose brother Len is a part owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has eased the move as well.
?We have three pro coaches and a pro owner,? says Purinton. ?We?ve played in all different leagues and we can pass that knowledge on and show our guys the mental and physical output you need to become great hockey players at whatever level,? he says.
The biggest obstacle for Purinton as a first-year coach has been learning the ins and outs of his roster and the strengths and weaknesses of his players. It?s these types of growing pains that make the transition to coaching both daunting and rewarding.
But given the winding path he took through the pro hockey ranks, it?s a challenge Purinton will gladly face. After all, he?s back at home on island with everything he could want: Family and the game of hockey.