After four losing seasons following a championship one, the Central Hockey League's Arizona Sundogs owners announced Monday they had relieved head coach Marco Pietroniro and assistant coach Chris Bartolone of their duties and hired David Lohrei as new head coach.
Chris Presson, Sundogs' general manager of business operations, said the club has eliminated the position of assistant coach. He termed the process leading to the changes "excruciating."
Co-owner Brad Fain said during a Monday press conference that the decision was collective among all investors of ownership group Mile High Hockey, LLC.
"The decision may seem simple, but it's not," Fain said, adding, "Even though we have relieved Marco and Chris of their duties, we want them to go out with the utmost dignity and respect they deserve."
He said in the team's six years of existence, Pietroniro and Bartolone took the organization to its highest level, with championship and conference banners hanging in the rafters of Tim's Toyota Center as proof.
Pietroniro joined the Sundogs as head coach prior its inaugural season, in 2006, even before Tim's Toyota Center broke ground. His best season was the Sundogs' second, when they won the Ray Miron President's Cup championship after a 39-19-6 regular season. He had the honor of coaching the CHL All-Star game in 2008, and again this past January as coach of the host Sundogs.
By phone on Monday, Pietroniro told the Tribune the move was unexpected.
"I wasn't looking for a job, so nothing's lined up," Pietroniro said. "But it's OK. I gave this town all I've got and I'm going to leave here with proud moments beyond the championship."
Asked about swirling talk that he employed European-style hockey in an American hockey world, Pietroniro laughed.
"If that's a joke, it's a good one," he said. "But I don't want to insult anybody. I'm proud of what we established. If anyone has any questions, I'm not going to hide behind a rock. I live here."
Pietroniro said that after getting the news on Sunday, "I slept last night. I'm at peace. I have no regrets (because) I did my best. We built the program from the ground up."
He also said he sacrificed and spent a lot of time away from his wife and five sons - for the job.
"I feel it was worth it. I took care of a lot of other people, now it's time to take care of my family and myself," Pietroniro said. "I wish we had better results in the wins and losses column. But I'm not a quitter."
Bartolone was an early hire in 2006 as a defenseman for the Sundogs and scored the franchise's first-ever goal. He served as team captain, transitioned to player/coach and eventually, assistant coach, when he saw his No. 29 retired to the rafters after a 17-year pro career that started in Italy. He averaged nearly a point a game as a Sundog - with 238 points in 260 games.
"It's definitely a shocker. It's not easy," Bartolone said. "I don't understand what's actually happened."
He and his wife have watched their three daughters grow up here over the past six years.
"I have other irons in the fire, so to speak. I have told fans and friends my goal from day one, that with or without hockey, I enjoy Prescott Valley and Arizona as a whole. It's a great place to raise a family," the Michigan native said. "So, shock or no shock, hockey or no hockey, we want to continue to make Prescott Valley our home. There's no panic."
He said since day one, the "S" (Sundogs) has given him so much, with blood, sweat and tears on and off the ice.
"After my injury I was fortunate to get a position as assistant coach when I had never coached before," he said. "I was looking forward to learn and grow, so that's where the shocker comes, because I wanted to do nothing but continue to be the face of the franchise and build relationships with fans and corporate sponsors."
He said his daughters love the school system and their dance lessons, and the bright side of his enforced time off is an opportunity to see some dance shows.
"We definitely plan on staying in the area," Bartolone said. "Hopefully one day, I'll be a business owner in this community."
New coach Lohrei
Lohrei assumed the reins with 13 games remaining on the season, starting with last night's contest against the Rapid City Rush, after the Tribune's press time.
Presson said he first reached out to Lohrei, who he's known for 15 years, about two months ago just to "bend his ear about players and our situation."
Lohrei called his first Sundogs practice Sunday night "high tempo."
"There was a lot of joking around... with older guys getting all over the younger guys," he said. "The spirit was good, and it could have been in the dumpster."
He said having the trade deadline pass could be a good thing for the Sundogs.
"The locker room is what it's going to be until the end of the season," Lohrei said. "All I want to hear about is...one game at a time."
He said the team deserves a lot of credit for the way they've played their last 10 games, earning a league point in half of them.
"In my mind they did what they needed to do; they got their point on the road in 50 percent," Lohrei said.
Lohrei has six years as a pro coach under his belt, with stints in the CHL with the Nashville Flyers and Fayetteville Force, and in the ECHL, with the Baton Rouge Kingfish and Reading Royals. He has concentrated his efforts of the past eight years as owner/operator of Maximum Sports Performance in Madison, Wisc., a business dedicated to training and improving athletes' performance.
Wisconsin native Lohrei is a single father raising daughters Veronica, 12, and Zoe, 9, and son, Mason, 11, in Middleton, Wisc. He coaches his son's AAA hockey team, the Madison Capitols, and his daughter's youth league Squirt team, the Middleton Wings.
After the school year, and during hockey's lengthy off-season, he will contemplate moving the family to Arizona.
"My focus right now is on the regular season," he said. "There's a lot of opportunity for these guys. (I told them if they) practice hard every day, be good people in the community and be professionals, your performance will speak for itself."
He stressed the team needs to get on top of the recruiting process and start a future's list of college players, juniors and veterans.
He also said he likes the phrase, "It's a great day for hockey."
Sundogs co-owner Ed Lepordo agrees.
"Hockey is entertainment, pure and simple. Come and see how wonderful a sport it is," Lepordo said.
Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012
Article comment by:
I would like to correct a misrepresentation in your article. David Lohrei is the divorced father of our three children. I am their mother presently raising them in Verona, WI while he is in AZ. We share the responsibility of raising our children. Thank you.