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Kompon says Winterhawks 'right fit'

Jamie Kompon isn't a carbon copy of Mike Johnston, his predecessor as general manager and head coach of the Winterhawks.

But he's pretty close.

"Mike and I are of the same ilk," Kompon said Wednesday as he was introduced to the media as the man who will guide Portland's Western Hockey League fortunes moving forward.

Like Johnston, who moves on to become head coach of the National Hockey League Pittsburgh Penguins, Kompon never played in the NHL. Like Johnston, he comes with a background as a teacher.

After graduating with a degree in education and math from McGill University in Montreal, Kompon taught math and physical education and coached hockey in grades 7 through 11 in Quebec for five years.

"But I had something tugging at me, saying there's something else out there," he said.

Kompon coached four years at his alma mater, spent a year as an assistant with the Baltimore Bandits of the American Hockey League and then got his big break. A mutual friend of then St. Louis Blues coach Joel Quenneville asked if he'd be interested in a video position with the club.

It's the same way Jesuit High and University of Portland grad Erik Spoelstra got his start with the Miami Heat.

"One thing led to another and I got the position," said Kompon, who turns 48 in September. "Over nine years there, I wore a variety of hats."

Kompon then spent six years as an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings, the first two seasons alongside Johnston before he took over in Portland. Johnston played a key role in convincing owner Bill Gallacher and president Doug Piper of Kompon's worthiness, and also in influencing Kompon that Portland would be a worthy endeavor.

The Hawks' new coach knows plenty about winning. He helped the Kings to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship, then did it again as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks -- rejoining Quenneville, the head coach there -- the following season. With 17 years of NHL coaching experience, it's his time to run his own program.

"Jamie is the perfect fit because of his teaching ability and because he is motivated to become a head coach and general manager," Johnston said. "He'll do really good work with young kids. That's his best skill. He's a hard worker, he's detailed and he's a very good teacher."

The common denominator when Kompon's name comes up is "work ethic."

"He's had to prove himself through his time in the NHL," said Kyle Gustafson, a Centennial High grad who has been a Hawk assistant the past decade and will remain as a member of Kompon's coaching staff. "He never played in the (NHL), but he stuck around for 17 years.

"Now he's taken this on as a new challenge. He's going to be awesome. He wants to be the best. I'm excited to see what he brings to the table. It's going to be good to learn under another set of eyes."

There might not have been another organization in North American junior hockey that could have attracted Kompon. The success of the Hawks under Johnston's watch -- four straight WHL finals, a WHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup finals -- and the solid ownership and management team was influential.

"It's like going to a car dealership," Kompon said. "You're not driving a Volkswagen off the lot. It's a Mercedes you're driving. It's a Ferrari. I'm going from a professional organization to another professional organization, if you can say that about a junior club.

"Mike and Joel were sort of pushing me out of the nest. … it's the right time and the right fit."

Had Travis Green -- Johnston's right-hand man in Portland for five years and the man who served as interim head coach during the Hawks' Memorial Cup run in 2013 -- been interested, Kompon probably wouldn't have been hired. Green, now head coach of the Vancouver Canucks' AHL affiliate in Utica. N.Y., turned down Johnston's offer of a spot on his Pittsburgh staff. With Portland, it never got that far, but Piper knew Green's hiring would mean for a nearly seamless transition.

It may be that way with Kompon, too, though with a slightly different flavor.

"Mike is a pretty calm presence," Piper said. "Travis is more fiery. I think Jamie is kind of a combination of both."

I asked Kompon how he'll be different than Johnston.

"There are going to be subtle differences," Kompon said. "I'm not going to change a lot. Maybe it will be a little tighter in how we approach the defensive side of the game. I think our players will buy in right away because it allows us to get the puck back quicker. Everyone wants to touch the puck. Under Mike, they were a push-the-pace, high-tempo, high-energy, puck-possession type of team. That's something I want to continue."

Said Johnston: "You have different personalities and styles when you're talking about how a person handles the day-to-day operation, so Jamie will be a little bit different that way. But it will be refreshing for the group."

Wednesday's press conference was unique in that the outgoing coach was at the podium, introducing his successor.

"It is different," Johnston said with a smile. "Usually, the coach is fired. Nobody wants to see him (at his successor's) press conference."

But Johnston -- classy to the end -- cares about the future of his former team. He helped the Hawks hire a coach he feels will keep them on course. And then he was there to assist in the unveiling.

"It's not about just getting to the top; it's about staying there," Johnston said. "If you can stay there, you become a program with longevity. That's what I want to see happen with this organization."

Asked how he feels about the task at hand, Kompon said, "I'm probably more nervous than I was before the final game to close out two Stanley Cups."

"Nervous, intimidated, overwhelmed come to mind, but I'm extremely excited, too," he said.

"I have big shoes to fill. Mike has set the recipe and blueprint to success here. I want us to continue to be a perennial powerhouse."

With platitudes fit for such a gathering, Piper described Kompon's hiring this way: "The stars aligned, and Jamie kind of floated down from heaven."

Time will tell about that. There's no reason to think, though, that the Hawks' new hiring can't have a fairy-tale ending.

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