New Pelham Panthers coach Chris Lukey. BILL POTRECZ

Timing is everything.

Pelham Panthers owner Tim Toffolo began to develop a relationship with Chris Lukey about five years ago and felt the 52-year-old St. Catharines native would be a good candidate to coach the Panthers at some point.

“I’ve had my eye on Chris for quite some time,” Toffolo said. “We’ve had conversations through the last so many years and a lot had to do with timing for him at one point and timing for me at certain times as well. It was a matter of time before we hooked up and figured things out. Last year, I stepped in and it was all about timing. It just wasn’t the right time with the pandemic and everything that went on. I knew then pretty well that eventually Chris was going to be brought in.”

Lukey, who recently retired after 28 years as a firefighter, was thrilled to be offered the position.

“I’m extremely excited,” said Lukey, who last coached in 2019 when he was behind the bench of the Welland Junior Canadians.

“Tim and I met about five years ago. We’ve always kept the relationship and always kept in touch with each other.”

Toffolo reached out to Lukey a few weeks go with the offer to step behind the bench in Pelham.

“I appreciated that and was flattered,” Lukey said. “It’s been a long time in the hockey world, especially in Ontario. I’m excited to get going.”

Toffolo met Lukey when he was head coach of the Niagara North Stars U18 in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

“I think that Chris runs a very professional show, he’s proven that in the past,” Toffolo said. “I’ve watched him and see the depth of his proposals and his planning. He wants to works towards centralizing common goals. I’ve seen that in Chris and that has intrigued me over the years.”

Lukey began his coaching career with a pair of stints as an assistant with the St. Catharines Falcons in 1993-94 and again in 1996-97. He moved to Fort Erie as an assistant in 2015-16 before taking the job in Welland.

The Junior Canadians struggled that season with only five wins, but Lukey doesn’t regret accepting the chance.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “I can’t let our record diminish the fact what a learning experience it was. Obviously, I wish we would have done better, but on a personal note as a coach there were a lot of good takeaways and a lot of good learning opportunities. It was a great opportunity for me to learn the league and what it takes to be in the league. There’s a lot of good coaches and a lot of good players, which I was impressed with.”

He also quickly picked up the difference between coaching at the junior level compared to minor hockey.

“There was the age gap and you’re dealing up kids up to 20 now,” he said. “There was a lot of deal with in regard to billets and kids living away from home and going to college or university. Just a few more things to deal with but I love the pace and intensity level. It was highly competitive and a lot of these kids are on their way to creating a path for themselves to go NCAA or go to college or a career for themselves so it was great to be able to help them with those opportunities.”

Lukey will be joined by assistant Craig Slack, skills coach Ed Kirsten, and goalie coach Glen Baraniuk.

The Panthers have ice booked for spring and summer sessions, but are at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have all the plans in place,” Toffolo said. “We’re just going to have to ride by the seat of our pants, not really knowing what’s going to transpire. We’re just going to have to see. Nobody knows. It’s all we can do during these times we are in right now.”

Before turning to coaching, Lukey played in the Ontario Hockey League with Kingston and Windsor before turning pro for a season with the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League.

His son, Dawson Lukey, played last season with Gilmour Academy of the United States High School Prep League in Ohio, where he collected 32 goals and 61 points.


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