One of the true daunting questions that a hockey player has to inevitably face is the “what next” element when their playing career comes to an end. At some point the NHL window closes, the wheels don’t spin as fast as they used to, or the game simply passes one by. Fortunately for former Milwaukee Admirals captain Scott Ford he was able to go out on his own terms and find an immediate answer to that itching question of “what next” by finding work in a familiar place.
The story behind how a kid that grew up in Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada that found a home away from home as a man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin comes from the path traveled on the road that comes with being a professional hockey player.
“This has basically become my home,” said Milwaukee Admirals assistant coach Scott Ford. “The community is awesome. There is so much stuff going on. The people are fantastic. The Midwest is great and then just this area with all that it has to offer. I’m excited to be here and to continue after my playing days. I’m just fortunate.”
After a four-year college playing career at Brown University Ford would take a journey over the next four-years of his life playing professionally for numerous organizations: Fresno Falcons, Cleveland Barons, Providence Bruins, Trenton Titans, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Dayton Bombers, and Utah Grizzlies. It wasn’t until the 2008-09 season that he would find the Milwaukee Admirals. That would mark the start of a relationship between the player, the team, and the city itself.
Ford’s professional playing career spanned eleven-seasons. In the Admirals fifteen-season existence as members of the American Hockey League (AHL) Ford managed to suit up and play for the Admirals in seven of those seasons. He was the Admirals all-time leader in the AHL era of the franchise for games played (378) up until Mark Van Guilder eclipsed the mark (383) a season ago. He also logged the second most penalty minutes (577) in the AHL era of the franchise trailing only Kelsey Wilson (699). For two full-seasons (2011-12 and 2013-14) he was named team captain of the Admirals.
There were two key moments to Ford’s career in and out of the Admirals. The first of which came in the 2012-13 season when he decided to leave the organization to pursue a chance of being able to play in his first career NHL game.
He opted to sign for the St. Louis Blues organization and was stationed with the Peoria Rivermen where he was named team captain. He played 43 games for the Rivermen but, during that time, the Admirals were missing a little bit of everything that he had provided in season’s past. So, on 2/19/13, the Predators organization opted to trade Jani Lajunen to the Blues in order to require their former captain. Ford’s return came in concert with the excellent form of then first-year goaltender Magnus Hellberg and the Admirals were able to squeak into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed of the Western Conference. The Admirals would be eliminated by the top seeded Texas Stars in four games of a best-of-five series.
Ford would stay-on with the Admirals the following season and take up the duties of being team captain once again. Yet, the second key moment for Ford’s career actually came while spending the bulk of his time not only out of Milwaukee but out of the AHL.
In the 2014-15 season the AHL options for a 34-year old defenseman are limited. This was the boat Ford found himself in. His decision to continue his playing career despite the lack of AHL hockey being on the table saw him join the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL. When Ford laced up the skates for the first time as a member of the Stingrays he was a few days shy of seven years since playing in his last ECHL game with the Grizzlies. It would feel like this is where the story should get sad but it couldn’t have been any further from that. Ford’s time as a member of the Stingrays proved to be quite memorable. The Stingrays would set an ECHL record for a winning streak while he was around by earning wins in twenty-three consecutive games. As the Stingrays were nearing their playoff push Ford signed a PTO contract to once again wear an Admirals jersey and provide some short-term help to the organization on and off the ice. He dressed for twelve more games with the Admirals before being sent back to assist the Stingrays in the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs where Ford’s team would fall in the final to the Allen Americans.
Once the dust settled on the 2015 Kelly Cup Finals that question of “what next” turned its ugly head once more to Ford. It was time to strongly consider his professional playing career as over and move on to a new profession. Fortunately for him, his time in the game left a major impression to one organization in particular. The one where he found his home away from home.
In the most recent off-season Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile reached out to the long-time member of the Admirals with a job offer. The job was to join Dean Evason and Stan Drulia as part of the Admirals coaching staff. Ford may not have had prior coaching experience which would put him on an even playing field to Evason for Drulia but he offered constant experience and natural leadership qualities throughout his time as a player in the Admirals locker room to take young up and coming talent under his wing. Despite continually maintaining high fitness, and having the drive to still achieve that ever allusive first career NHL game, it was time to transition from the ice to behind the bench.
“It just felt right,” said Ford. “I felt like I was able to do things on my own terms as far as playing that final year. Having just an unbelievable run with South Carolina and, obviously, coming back [to Milwaukee] at the end of the season. I had an opportunity with Nashville and I felt like it was the right time to step away.”
The move was a perfect fit. Ford always seemed to migrate back to Milwaukee regardless of the Admirals season because it became home. Despite only being around the team briefly at the end of the 2014-15 season he still was highly familiar with the coaching staff, his surroundings, and numerous players throughout the system. He could be the gap between the locker room and the coaching staff.
“[Scott Ford] been great,” smiled Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. “I’m telling ya, he’s been a real real great addition for [Stan Drulia] and I. He doesn’t work any harder than us, clearly, but he is such a nice presence within the room. He’s obviously just removed, he’s played with some of these guys, but he’s found that balance of separating. He’s in the room, and he’s communicating with the guys, but its not – he’s going down there and telling us their stories. He’s found a nice balance between buffering with the players and the coaches. And he’s taken on some real good responsibilities as far as our pre-scout, our preparation, does a lot of that. Helps Stan and I with special teams and he’s a good person. You talk about the room and the players and having good hockey players. Well, it’s great to have a good coach but if he’s not a good person it’s not going to work. He is a good person. And he is a really good coach as well.”
For as long as Ford was in the game becoming a coach provided new challenges as well as getting out of trends he became so familiar with. He logged 694 games of experience in his professional playing career. So, when a whistle were to blow at an Admirals practice earlier in the season, it was hard for him to not take a knee with the rest of the players as his former coaches spoke up. It was just one of many areas in which he needed to account for aspects of the coaching role that most players may generally overlook. As a player the mindset can be to head to the rink, go on autopilot, and let the game be the game. As a coach there is a business mentality to conducting the parts and pieces that make the team go. There are day-to-day communications from the Admirals to the Predators so that everyone is on the same pulse. Preparations far exceed simple readiness for a game but extend to even as small as how practices should be mapped out and schedule in accordance with how hectic the league schedule can already be in its own right. It is a constant administrative effort to see that each individual player can perform to the best of their abilities while all coming together to form the best Admirals team that it can be. In his first season behind a bench as an assistant coach Ford just so happened to be part of one of the best Admirals teams in their history as a member of the AHL.
“We’ve had a successful year,” commented Ford. “Our group is a group. It’s not just one guy or two guys that have led the charge. If you look at our stats and our scoring it’s very balanced. It’s just been a total group effort right from the top to the bottom.”
This season marked the return of the Admirals to the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence. It might sound like a blip on the radar but the Admirals had made the playoffs for an twelve consecutive seasons up until last season. Out of those twelve straight playoff seasons Ford contributed to half of those playoff teams. In his first outing behind the Admirals bench he is back to playoff hockey. All he has done since his last appearance is trade some sticks for suits.
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