The Saint John Sea Dogs announced on Tuesday it fired its head coach and general manager, Mike Kelly, in a surprise move.
A native of Shamrock, P.E.I., Kelly had been in the dual role since the summer of 2012.
He was previously the team's associate coach and director of hockey operations for three seasons, beginning in 2009, working alongside head coach Gerard Gallant.
Under their guidance, the Sea Dogs made it to its first Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final in 2010 and in 2011, dominated the league and became the first Atlantic province team in the 93-year history of the MasterCard Memorial Cup to win the major junior championship.
'Sometimes it's a cold, cool reality in sports that a change is needed.' - Wayne Long, Saint John Sea Dogs president
However, this season the club has lost eight straight games heading into Friday night's home game against the Moncton Wildcats at Harbour Station.
Wayne Long, president of the Sea Dogs, said the recent losing streak was not a factor in Kelly's firing; rather, the club's board decided a change would be good for the organization.
"It was just a combination of things that we felt that for us to get where need to go for 2017, which is obviously, knock on wood, hoisting the Memorial Cup and hoisting the Memorial Cup in Saint John, that we needed a change in direction," he said.
"These things are never fun. These things are very difficult for us to do, especially when you're dealing with somebody with the integrity of a Mike Kelly, but sometimes it's a cold, cool reality in sports that a change is needed."
Duel roles demanding
Last year, when the team announced Kelly was being promoted to head coach and general manager, Long said the Sea Dogs "couldn't be in better hands with [him] taking on both roles."
Now, Long said holding down dual roles with the team may be too demanding.
"We were obviously excited to give him both roles, he was qualified for both roles, but we also had our eyes wide open that both roles are challenging," he said.
"Sometimes certain tenures of a team, you need more concentration on one role than the other and we felt … both roles were very difficult for Mike to do."
Another concern — game attendance is down this season, said Long. Harbour Station is averaging about 3,100 fans per game, rather than the projected goal of 3,900.
Long also admitted the Sea Dogs players are in a state of shock, and he plans to speak with them when they come into practice on Wednesday.
"It's a lesson for everybody involved, and I mean they are young kids and young men and we'll talk to them and explain our reasoning, but in the end, they are hockey players and it is a part of hockey, and they've got a job to do."
The Saint John squad expects to make an announcement on a new head coach on Wednesday.