Nottingham Panthers have a new sheriff in town with the arrival of head coach Rich Chernomaz. The 55-year-old Canadian has taken over at the Elite League club from Corey Neilson, who had been at the Panthers since 2006 but has now moved on to coach in Germany.
Chernomaz’s arrival marks a new era at the club. The last time Panthers had a coaching change the i-pad had not been invented, while Snapchat, Spotify, Instagram, GPS on your smartphone, WhatsApp and Uber didn’t even exist.
The Manitoba native has a tough act to follow after the unheralded success of Neilson in his time at the club, but he clearly is up for the challenge of coaching one of the UK’s biggest ice hockey clubs.
“We want to win trophies, especially the league, domestically, but it will be a process,” he said. “I have a plan and a strategy. I’ll trust my players, but they have to earn that trust to start with.
“In turn it creates a lot of mutual respect for everybody. That’s the goal every year – get people on the same page and get them buying in.
“We have to develop a consistency and build around a structure. A big part of it is the respect and trust we all have between players, coaches and management. That’s my philosophy in a nutshell.”
Chernomaz has been coaching in Germany since 1999 and also had a five-year stint as head coach of the Hungary national team, so he is well used to being away from home.
As a player, he played in the world’s top league, the NHL, as he iced for Colorado, New Jersey and Calgary, so has done his fair share of travelling since started out as a teenager in Saskatoon.
The Canadian has not seen much of the city since his arrival after a busy start to the new season, but he admits he did chalk something off his bucket list recently by visiting one of Nottingham’s famous landmarks.
“I have really enjoyed my time so far,” he said. “Unfortunately there has not been much time to do much sight-seeing but I have managed Wollaton Hall.
“I always wanted to see where the Dark Knight movie was filmed, so that was something fun to do.”
Chernomaz led Panthers to an unbeaten pre-season and his first two home games at the club were near sell-outs, as Panthers beat Sheffield Steelers in the Challenge Cup and Manchester Storm in the league.
And the Canadian has been impressed by the dedication and the passion of the club’s large supporter base.
“I have been really, really happy with a lot of the people and especially the fans,” he smiled. “I have loved how genuine, respectful and nice the people are.
“I enjoy talking hockey with them and you can really see their support during our home games. They are patient but at the same time when they have needed to they have made it an advantage to play at home.”
Chernomaz revealed that the Elite League and the Panthers’ arena in particular matches up well to some of the top clubs in Germany, which is considered a stronger league than the UK.
The Canadian had discussions with owner Neil Black over a lengthy period of time about taking over at the club and was invited to the end-of-season playoff finals weekend in Nottingham where the Panthers were knocked out in the semi-finals by Sheffield.
“I heard a lot of good things about the organisation. My initial discussions with Neil were excellent,” he said. “He has a vision I respect. He wants to take the league to another level of professionalism.
“When I saw Finals Weekend I was really impressed. That game day operation was better than 75% of DEL teams.
“That says a lot about wanting to push on. It’s a shame not every team in the league has a building like Nottingham.
“It’s a new challenge and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be nice to speak English again.”