By Nicholas Carafa
Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images
As the current Toronto Jr. Canadiens surge in the rankings for the 2016 OHL Cup, one of their graduates is overcoming the challenges of being a first-year coach in junior hockey.
Luca Caputi last donned the JRC red, white and blue in 2003-04 when he posted a 107-point season before being selected 37th overall by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2004 OHL draft.
Three years later he was a fourth-round pick (111th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played in a total of 35 NHL games with the Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs and saw action in over 200 contests in the AHL. After two seasons overseas, nagging injuries and limited professional opportunities led Caputi to join the Guelph Storm as an assistant coach for the 2015-16 season.
Caputi said the decision to move behind the bench wasn’t easy, but was the best move for him and his family – and something he always imagined for his post-playing days.
“I saw myself being a coach later on,” Caputi told the Guelph Mercury in August. “I used to write down drills that I thought I would bring as a coach and quotes from coaches. I’ve always been a student of the game, writing things down.
“I always found him mature beyond his years,” said Mike Kelly, vice president and general manager of the Storm. “He knows that there’s work to be done. He’s bright and he’s inquisitive … one of those guys that struck me potentially as a good coach even when he was 18 years old.”
Caputi’s debut season behind the bench hasn’t gone as planned – the Storm hold a 6-29-3 record and sit in last place in the OHL standings.
“There’s obviously going to be stuff I’m going to learn along the way and there’s going to be a learning curve,” Caputi told GuelphStorm.com. “I’m ready to put my full effort into it and hopefully become a good coach.”
“I have really good guys above me in [assistant coach Todd Harvey] and [head coach Bill Stewart] and it’s been fun working with these guys every day and trying to make [our players] better people and hockey players.”
The chance to bring on a top draft pick this spring is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Storm, who are just two years removed from an OHL Championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup final.
One can’t help but wonder if Caputi’s GTHL roots will lead the Storm to pick Jr. Canadiens captain Ryan Merkley with their first-round selection. Projected to be one of the top picks in April, Merkley is a smooth-skating defenceman similar to Matt Finn, who captained the Storm from 2012-14.
A harsh reality that comes with so much investment in the game of hockey – or any sport, for that matter – is that everyone’s competitive playing days will eventually reach their end. Since a decades-long NHL career doesn’t await every junior hockey player, stories like Caputi’s serve to highlight other paths.
Having a younger voice behind the bench, a voice that players can relate to and use for guidance, is a story that doesn’t need stat lines. It’s one that voices reassurance.
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