PORTLAND — After six seasons building the Portland Winterhawks into an elite junior hockey franchise, Mike Johnston didn’t want to hand control to just anyone.
That was clear on Wednesday, when the new coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins returned to the Moda Center to introduce Jamie Kompon as his replacement.
“I just knew right away that Jamie was the right guy for our program here,” Johnston said.
Kompon, 47, spent the past 17 years as an assistant coach in the National Hockey League. This is his first chance to run his own team. Like Johnston did, Kompon will be both head coach and general manager for the Winterhawks.
“The way the organization is run, the way (owner Bill Gallacher) treats his people, the way Mike has built this organization, it’s too good to be true,” Kompon said. “It’s a great opportunity for me.”
Kompon was a video coach and then an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues from 1997-2006. Kompon and Johnston became friends when both were assistant coaches with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Kompon was an assistant coach for the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup champions and for the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2013 title.
He and Johnston share a belief in fast-paced, attack-oriented hockey, he said.
“The way the Portland Winterhawks play, that’s my style to a tee,” Kompon said.
Both Johnston and Winterhawks president Doug Piper said there was plenty of interest in the job, but that Kompon was Johnston’s top choice.
“Hockey’s a funny business. The stars aligned, and Jamie kind of floated down from heaven and here we are,” Piper said, drawing chuckles during the press conference.
Kompon said he will rely on assistant general manager Matt Bardsley and assistant coach Kyle Gustafson as he transitions into the general manager part of the job.
Gustafson will remain as an assistant coach. Kompon will hire a second assistant to replace Karl Taylor, who was hired as an assistant coach with the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars where he will work under former Edmonton Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal.
Gustafson, who has been a Winterhawks assistant coach for 10 seasons, said he is excited about the chance to work with Kompon.
“He’s had to prove himself in the NHL. He’s a guy that hadn’t played in the NHL, but he stuck around for 17 years,” Gustafson said. “The fact that he’s taken this on as a new challenge, you know he’s going to bring that work ethic.”
Like Johnston, Kompon was a teacher before turning to coaching. He also has had player development responsibilities while in the NHL.
“I just think he’ll do really good work with young kids. That’s his biggest skill,” Johnston said. “He’s hard working, he’s detailed, he’s motivated and he’s a very good teacher. That’s what you need at this level.”
Kompon said introducing himself to current players, helping to recruit future players, and watching a lot of games from last season to learn about the Western Hockey League, will keep him busy in the next few weeks.
When he introduces himself to current Winterhawks, Kompon said his message will be that he’s not going to revamp anything that Johnston has built.
“I’m here to foster that and continue to develop and continue to grow what’s already in place,” Kompon said.