Blackhawks fire coach Jeremy Colliton after rough start

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Jeremy Colliton

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton reacts as he talks to his team during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. The Red Wings won 6-3. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO (AP) — The reeling 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. Derek King was promoted from Rockford of the American Hockey League, replacing Colliton on an interim basis.

Colliton went 87-92-26 with Chicago. He was dismissed exactly three years after he got the job.

Assistant coaches Tomas Mitell and Sheldon Brookbank also were let go. The team said assistants Marc Crawford, Jimmy Waite, Matt Meacham and Dylan Crawford will remain in their current positions, and Chris Kunitz will stay on as a player development advisor.

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

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, resigned in the wake of the independent review, and Al MacIsaac, another top hockey executive, also departed. The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million, and Joel Quenneville, the Blackhawks’ coach at the time of the alleged assault, stepped down as coach of the Florida Panthers.

Colliton’s firing was the first major move for Kyle Davidson, who was elevated to interim GM when Bowman stepped aside.

Davidson “has our full confidence and autonomy to make hockey decisions, and we support him on this coaching change,” Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz said in a team statement. “We appreciate all that Jeremy has brought to the Blackhawks, and we look forward to working with Derek as our interim head coach while we work to rebuild our permanent hockey operations leadership.”

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

“Our on-ice goal remains the same: to build an elite system of hockey — and we have not delivered on that,” Davidson said in the team statement. “The fact is our play and competitiveness must improve. Every game, every shift.”

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.

King, 54, was hired as Rockford’s head coach in April 2019. He took over the IceHogs on an interim basis after Colliton was promoted to the Blackhawks’ job.

King also was an Islanders draft pick and played in the NHL for 14 seasons, finishing with 261 goals and 351 assists.

“This team has a lot of talent — talent that I am familiar with from my time in the organization — and I look forward to working with them behind the bench,” King said in the statement.

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