Al Letang comes full circle to coach the Sarnia Sting

Al Letang addresses the media during a news conference held to announcement his hiring as head coach of the Sarnia Sting in June. Photo courtesy, Metcalfe Photography

Troy Shantz

Though hockey has taken him around the world, for Alan Letang there’s no place like home.

The former Sting player will lead Sarnia’s OHL team as its new head coach when the 2021-22 season kicks off Oct. 7.

“I met so many good people from that one year of playing Junior here, (made) a bunch of close friends,” Letang said.

“And my (Sarnia) wife and her family are very close, so it was a no-brainer to come back.”

Letang, who will work with associate head coach Brad Staubitz and assistant coach Mark Mancari, has now come full circle.

He arrived in Sarnia in 1994 for the Sting’s inaugural season when the Cornwall Royals franchise was relocated. One year was all it took to make an impression on the young defenceman, he said.

Though his pro career took him to rosters in the NHL, AHL, IHL and European Leagues, he returned many summers to be with wife Krystie, and has called Sarnia home for 20-plus years now.

Letang played on two German teams and a Swiss team and made appearances with the NHL’s Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames and New York Islanders.

He spent nearly a decade in Europe.

“That was the biggest thing for us. You get over there and they take such good care of you. You’re living and you have time to travel in Europe. You just get immersed in the culture. It’s a pretty neat place to go over to.”

He landed in Croatia, where a colleague was rebuilding a pro team in the Baltic. Letang was soon suiting up for and coaching a team comprised of battle-hardened North Americans and young Croats.

“It was a fairly odd place to go. I went there to try and help develop a team and ended up staying there for eight years,” he said.

Medvescak Zagreb played in a European league before joining the KHL, Russia’s answer to the NHL.

“We were selling out the building, 6,000 to 7,000 (fans) a night. It was a good little buzz and a good little atmosphere.”

Letang coached Zagreb as well as the Croatian national team before deciding to return to Canada in 2015.

He heard the Owen Sound Attack was looking and landed the job of assistant coach, making a three-hour commute to Sarnia between games. He was named head coach in the 2018-19 season.

He was also a member of the coaching staff for Canada’s U20 national team that won gold at the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships.

The Attack was building momentum before the pandemic arrived, however hockey’s suspension meant plenty of free time to enjoy his family and children, Ayden and Aiva, he said.

As the new bench boss, Letang replaces team co-owner and Derian Hatcher, who stepped down as head coach in June.

“I had no aspirations and no thoughts of leaving Owen Sound. We have great fan support and we have great sponsor support,” he said.

“I tossed and turned for probably four or five days. Do I want to leave something we’re just starting to build in Owen Sound?”

But the fit in Sarnia was perfect, he said. Between Sting games and practices, Letang can watch his son and daughter play for the Mooretown Flags and Sarnia Lady Sting.

“It had nothing to do with me trying to hold (Owen Sound) for more money. This was strictly coming out of COVID and realizing how much I missed not being around my family.”

Letang said his focus will be on player development.

“We want to stress the development of the kids coming in. We want to put together a development program for them. We set out some goals for them; we identify parts of their game they can improve on. It’ll help them get drafted into the NHL or help them become great (university) players.”

A Memorial Cup would be nice, too, he added.