By Larry Fisher

Bruce Hamilton thought he had his man. Then, the Edmonton Oilers scooped him up.

Ian Herbers, formerly the University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach and coming off his second straight CIS championship, had applied for the coaching vacancy with the Kelowna Rockets. His resume immediately went to the top of the heap for Hamilton, Kelowna’s general manager, but Herbers accepted an assistant coaching job with the Oilers over the weekend to round out Todd McLellan’s staff.

“They hired him (Sunday), so that was one off the list,” Hamilton said of Herbers. “We were very high on him. He would’ve been a slam-dunk in my mind, but that’s the way it goes.

“Now we’ll dig in a little deeper and try to get as much information as we can on each guy before we start to decide who I want to bring in (for interviews).”

Beyond Herbers, a frontrunner hasn’t emerged among the 50-plus men interested in replacing Dan Lambert alongside current assistants Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard, who will both remain in the fold but are not candidates to be named head coach at this time.

“We’ve got lots of real good possibilities,” Hamilton said. “I’m working my way through, trying to figure out who we’re interested in and researching them out.

“My first preference is to find somebody with some experience. If we don’t, then we’ll work our way down to the best young guy that is available.”

Lambert was somewhat surprisingly hired by the Buffalo Sabres last week as an assistant coach to Dan Bylsma, his former minor-league teammate who visited Kelowna in March and helped run a few Rockets practices. Lambert left after six seasons on Kelowna’s coaching staff, five as an assistant to Ryan Huska and this past season as head coach of the WHL champions and Memorial Cup finalists.

Fresh off those successes and with a strong returning roster, not to mention a desirable place to live, Kelowna’s opening is a coveted one...

Another name that has been subject of speculation is Ryan McGill, who parted ways with the Kootenay Ice this spring after three seasons as their bench boss. Rockets broadcaster Regan Bartel noted that McGill is familiar to both Hamilton and Kelowna's director of player personnel Lorne Frey. The 46-year-old's father Bob was a scout for the Rockets for several years and Ryan is a former player with the Swift Current Broncos, the team Frey was an assistant coach with during the 1986-87 season.

“I don’t think I’m going to start disclosing who has applied,” Hamilton said with respect to the ongoing process. “All these guys could be in the running for other places too.

“I think there are still some guys that will come forward too,” he added. “Guys that are holding out for NHL assistant and American League jobs. There are a few of them that I certainly know haven’t got jobs yet that would be of interest to me.”

With that said, Hamilton won’t be waiting around for long.

“I’m hoping to start interviewing probably next week,” he said. “Because of the alumni stuff this week, I think I’m pretty tied up with that. I’d rather wait and bring them in one after the other.

“I don’t bring people in for interviews just to interview them. I want to work to get my research done and decide if it’s someone that interests me, then bring them in and see how I feel about them.”