The Tech Hockey Guide staff brainstormed potential candidates and settled on our top picks. Through the next few weeks we will break down potential candidates while discussing pedigree as a player and coach as well as likelihood of being Coach Pearson’s replacement. Yesterday, we profiled “The Veteran” Seth Appert, who had a long career in college hockey, but no connection to Michigan Tech. Today we shift gears back to an alum, but “The Professional” Davis Payne has zero college hockey experience on his resume.
Payne played all four years for the Huskies before going pro, where he spent a lot of time in the ECHL but managed to play over 100 games in the AHL and had two stints in the NHL with the Boston Bruins. During his professional career—which lasted 8 seasons—he scored over 130 goals and 300 points.
College: Michigan Tech
Birthplace: Port Alberni, British Columbia
Recent Position: Assistant Coach, Los Angeles (NHL)
Since 2000, Payne has been an assistant or head coach in professional hockey including stints in the ECHL, AHL, and NHL including roles with 6 different teams. His first job was as an assistant coach for the Greenville Grrrowl (ECHL) in 2000 where his career as a player had just ended. It didn’t last long as he replaced former Lakers coach Frank Anzalone as head coach of the now defunct Pee Dee Pride (ECHL) before Christmas to finish the 2000-2001 season. During his three seasons with the Pride, they made the playoffs each year and he had a combined record of 104-67-17. In 2003, he left the Pride (two years before they folded) and became the head coach of another ECHL team, the Alaska Aces.
Payne jumped right in and nearly doubled their win total in the first season, giving the Aces their first winning season in five years. The team improved through each of his first three seasons in both wins and playoff runs culminating with a Kelly Cup championship in 2006. During his fourth and final season with the Aces there was a small decline in success but they still won their division before losing the National Conference Finals to division rival Idaho, a team which included former Husky Taggart Desmet. Due to the major success of Payne’s time with the recently defunct Aces, he was recognized as a 2017 inductee into the Alaska Aces Hall of Fame.
After his seven seasons in the ECHL where he amassed a record of 289-142-45, he became Assistant Coach for the Peoria Rivermen (AHL). After just one season, he was promoted to Head Coach after David Baseggio was fired after two average seasons without making the playoffs. Payne was head coach for Peoria for about one and a half seasons where he made the playoffs and went 64-44-9 before being promoted to head coach of the St Louis Blues replacing Andy Murray.
Once in the NHL with the Blues, Payne’s team missed the playoffs in both seasons that he finished and was let go after a 6-7-0 start to the 2011-12 season. While the hook was quick, he did go 67-55-15 as an NHL coach. After that he landed an assistant coach position with the Los Angeles Kings where he helped lead the team to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2014. During his time as assistant with the Kings, the team went 200-134-42.
The Kings ownership cleaned house after a disappointing 2016-17 season and Payne is currently unemployed. He has the historical connection with the Huskies and multiple alumni have stated that he would be a home run, so there should definitely be interest from Michigan Tech. It’s possible that he’d want to return to Houghton and help build on what Pearson has done.
He has never been through a single game as a college coach of any kind and it seems unlikely he’s invest much time in recruiting. The big issue is whether or not Payne will want to take that step and become a college coach where recruiting is a primary part of the role.
Davis Payne has no real counterpart when it comes to success leading a team, but he’s never once coached a college game. For his hiring to work, it would require a strong team of assistants that can show him the ropes when it comes to all the ins and outs of college hockey and recruiting. The best example of this is, ironically, the coach he replaced in St. Louis, Andy Murray. While Murray had no experience as a college coach, he retained the staff that Jeff Blashill put in place the year before and has done a far better job than most expected.
Payne could do the same, surrounding him with some combination experienced college coaches that could include Joe Shawhan, Gary Shuchuk, or maybe even Cam Ellsworth in an Associate Head Coach role. If MTU can convince Payne to give college a try, this could be a very successful arrangement.
Feature image courtesy of Getty Images and St. Louis Blues