Rookie assistants bring experience

BRAMPTON, Ont. – Ryan Oulahen and Jason Ward, each of whom spent part of last season as an assistant coach with the Brampton Battalion, have signed to return for a full campaign in 2011-12, the Ontario Hockey League club announced Tuesday.

Oulahen and Ward both have experience playing under Stan Butler, Battalion director of hockey operations and head coach. Centre Oulahen played three seasons with the Troops, serving as captain in 2004-05, while right winger Ward played for Canada under assistant coach Butler at the 1999 World Junior Championship.

“Ryan and Jason bring a really good balance to our team,” said Butler. “They got their feet wet last year and will be ready to step into their first full season this year.”

Oulahen, a 26-year-old Barrie resident, joined the Battalion coaching staff last January.

“It’s great to be able to come back to a place where I’m comfortable,” said Oulahen. “I know the way Stan coaches and what’s expected of me here.”

Ward, a native of Mississauga, made a short appearance with the Troops before leaving to play professionally in Austria. On his return, he rejoined the Battalion for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

“It’s an honour for Stan to give me this opportunity,” said Ward, 32. “I’m excited about going into my first year and being able to pass on my experiences as a player.”

Oulahen was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the fifth round of the National Hockey Leagues 2003 Entry Draft. He played four American Hockey League seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins, serving as captain for one full season before a hip injury forced him into early retirement.

“Coaching was always in the back of my head. I always knew I wanted to stay in the game, so being able to come back to Brampton and learn from Stan worked perfectly.

Ward, seeking increased stability for his family, made the decision to retire in July.

“I can live at home, and it gives me something I can give back to my family,” said Ward. “Coaching has always been something I’ve wanted to try, so this is my opportunity to bring my experience to the OHL.”

Ward, a first-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens from the Erie Otters in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, played 12 years of pro hockey in the NHL, AHL and Europe. He twice represented Canada at the World Juniors, in 1998 and 1999, helping win silver in the latter year.

“One of the biggest skills you can teach someone is learning how to deal with the mental side of the game,” noted Ward. “Being able to deal with the ups and downs are important qualities to have in order to get to the next level.”

Said Butler: “The biggest transition from playing to coaching is looking at the game different as a coach than as a player. As a player you look at the game and prepare for a game differently than as a coach.”

Oulahen said he considered the transition to be reasonably easy.

“I’ve been a leader and a captain many times throughout my career, and it’s really just one step up from being a captain, so for me it wasn’t a huge transition. I just have to get used to being behind the bench.”

Ward described his transition as a work in progress.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learned already during my transition from a player to coach is the amount of work that goes into the coaching role,” acknowledged Ward.

Oulahen has conducted twice-a-week skates in Barrie this summer, which he said have kept him sharp with the season looming.

The Battalion, which opens training camp Aug. 31, is scheduled to play five exhibition games before the regular-season debut, on home ice Sept. 23 against the Barrie Colts.

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