Neil Graham Ready for the Next Challenge in Texas

(Credit: Noah Saucerman-Pitts, Idaho Steelheads)
Sitting in his office in Boise back in January 2017, then head coach Neil Graham told me about his recruiting strategy for ECHL players, which he summarized, "Take care of business for Idaho, and we help to advance you up the hockey ladder."

The sales pitch has become reality for the salesman himself this week as Graham was announced yesterday as the Texas Stars assistant coach.

He spent last week in upstate New York with his family celebrating his father’s 70th birthday. Once the departure of Bob Jones to Ottawa became official, “things picked up” and he balanced celebrations with some conversations about his future in the AHL. It only took a few calls before Graham was cemented as the next assistant.

“I think it was more talking about the scenario than any formal phone interview. Last summer we had a lengthy interview, but we talk 3-4 times a week. To already have that relationship is what made it such a good fit.”

Texas GM Scott White mentioned the extra year of head coaching experience that Graham acquired since last summer, which White felt was key to the hiring. Combined with his familiarity with the system, it was an easy hire.

“I think that’s something that excites me. It’s not a lot of introductions. I’ve coached a lot of these players in Traverse or exhibition. I’m familiar with the roster, scouts and staff. That transition should be fast tracked so now it’s for me to work with the players and staff.”

At the ECHL level, the head coach is also the GM. Back in 2017, Graham was undecided, at least publicly, about which way he wanted to go if he moved up to the AHL. Now, he’s explicit about his passion for the coaching role.

“As much as I enjoyed the GM responsibility, I’m most excited about honing my craft on the coaching side, learning from a great coach like Derek Laxdal. Being under his tutelage is one of the things that excites me the most. To go down the coaching path is my calling.”

With Graham on staff, Texas now has two former Steelheads in its coaching ranks. Laxdal coached the ECHL club from 2005-2010. Graham notes this speaks to the strength of the affiliation overall.

Now, he, his wife Meg and their 3 year-old son are anxious get to Cedar Park and begin their time in Texas. Meetings with a Cedar Park realtor are already on the calendar for today. The young family (Graham is just 34) is looking forward to putting down roots in the community, a key aspect of his coaching philosophy.

“Something we embraced in Boise was really being a part of the community. The fans, the neighbors, our son making friends. That’s the same way we want to approach this. We want to dive in with two feet, be good members of the community and good neighbors. I believe a lot of what you accomplish in hockey stems from first being good people.”