Blackhawks fire head coach Jeremy Colliton after ‘rough start,’ assistant also let go

CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks fired coach Jeremy Colliton on Saturday, dismissing the former NHL forward with the team off to a rough start in his fourth season.

Colliton, who turns 37 in January, was in the first year of a two-year contract extension.

Assistant coaches Tomas Mitell and Sheldon Brookbank also were let go. Derek King was promoted from the AHL’s Rockford to replace Colliton on an interim basis.

Chicago lost 5-1 at Winnipeg on Friday night, dropping 1-9-2 after beginning the season with playoff aspirations.

Colliton’s dismissal is the latest chapter in a rough stretch for what was once regarded as one of the NHL’s marquee franchises.

RELATED: Stan Bowman resigns as Chicago Blackhawks GM, team fined $2M following sex assault investigation

The Blackhawks published a report on Oct. 26 that showed senior leaders with the organization largely ignored allegations that assistant coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted former first-round pick Kyle Beach during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup title in 2010. Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual.

Stan Bowman, Chicago’s general manager and president of hockey operations, and team executive Al MacIsaac resigned in the wake of the report, and the NHL fined the team $2 million. Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks’ coach at the time of the alleged assault, stepped down as coach of the Florida Panthers.

The firing of Colliton, by contrast, was prompted by the team’s on-ice performance.

Colliton stepped into a tough situation when he replaced Quenneville in November 2018, becoming the 38th coach in franchise history. Quenneville led Chicago to three Stanley Cup titles in his 10-plus years in charge.
Colliton was coaching at Rockford when he got the job 15 games into the season. Then his second and third seasons with the Blackhawks were disrupted by COVID-19.

He guided Chicago into the postseason in 2020, winning a four-game series against Edmonton before being eliminated by Vegas. The Blackhawks played without captain Jonathan Toews last season, but they stayed in playoff contention before fading to a 24-25-7 record.

Looking at a normal training camp and schedule for the first time, Colliton had high hopes for his fourth season. The Blackhawks acquired defenseman Seth Jones, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Tyler Johnson in three July trades, and signed Jake McCabe, another veteran defenseman, in free agency.

But Colliton was cut loose after a sluggish start that included offensive and defensive issues. The coach was greeted with a round of boos when he was introduced before the team’s first home game, and fans chanted “Fire Colliton!” during a 6-3 loss to Detroit on Oct. 24 that also marked the end of the franchise’s sellout streak at 535 games.

Chicago’s early woes were compounded by stints in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol for Patrick Kane, Riley Stillman, Jujhar Khaira and a couple members of Colliton’s coaching staff.

The 6-foot-2 Colliton was selected by the New York Islanders in the second round of the 2003 draft. He had three goals and three assists in 57 career NHL games – all with New York.

Fans said they expected the changes given the team’s poor start to the season.

“Not really surprising,” said Trent Digiovanni, who plays for the Atlanta Phoenix youth hockey team. “They’ve just been losing and in a really bad spot.”

Thomas Frazee, coach of Atlanta Phoenix youth hockey team, had similar feelings about the Blackhawks’ changes.

“When you start the season one-and-nine, you know changes are going to happen,” Frazee said.

Fans who headed to the United Center Saturday night to root on the Chicago Bulls said a change for the Blackhawks was long overdue.

“I’m glad it happened. Obviously, change is needed,” said Blackhawks fan Vincent Kelly. “I miss when the Blackhawks were good.”

Kelly added that letting go of the three coaches was the right decision.

“Anything that will help them win, you know?” Kelly said. “Obviously, the fans don’t want them losing. If the coaches weren’t getting the job done, then they should be gone!”

Fans said they plan to return to the United Center Sunday night, when the new interim head coach, Derek King, will make his debut with the Blackhawks.

ABC7 Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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