By Brian Compton
NHL.com Staff Writer
It’s been less than three years since the Trenton Titans won the Kelly Cup with a core that most coaches – especially at the ECHL level – would salivate over.
Rick Kowalsky. Scott Bertoli. Andrew Allen. Vince Williams. B.J. Abel. The list goes on and on.
Leon Hayward was another member of that prominent list. And, just like each of the aforementioned, Hayward has decided to hang up the blades.
After a stellar professional career that began in 2002 in Pensacola and was highlighted with the 2005 Kelly Cup Finals’ Most Valuable Player award, the 28-year-old forward announced his retirement last week. He will remain in the game on a part-time basis as an assistant coach with the Texas Wildcatters — the team he appeared in 69 games for last season, tallying 14 goals and 21 assists.
”I was really prepared to kind of step back and step away from it,” said Hayward, who recently accepted a sales position in Houston. “I haven’t even looked at my skates since I took them off after we lost to Florida in the playoffs. It wasn’t one of those things where I was skating a lot and thinking it was time to get in shape.”
His decision became easier once he and his new wife took jobs in Houston. But that didn’t stop Texas head coach Malcolm Cameron from offering his former player a job on a part-time basis. Hayward accepted, and will attend all home games and practices when time permits.
“He’s got a lot to offer,” said Cameron, who guided the Wildcatters to a record of 41-22-9 and a second-place finish in the South Division last season. “He’s a smart guy and he has a great relationship with the players. He’s always been one of the most popular guys on his team every year. It was an easy decision for me to offer him a coaching position. It’s nice to have a guy like that.”
The upcoming season may ultimately determine whether or not Hayward decides to attempt coaching on a full-time basis. While he certainly possesses the charisma and persona that most teams look for in a coach, Hayward is using a wait-and-see approach. It basically will come down to if his players are buying into his what he’s preaching.