The longtime Jr. Gulls coach and former GM of Ice-Plex strives to keep hockey accessible in San Diego County.
Pierre Dufour, the longtime general manager of Escondido Ice-Plex and a 15-year coach with the Jr. Gulls, will succeed Craig Carlyle, right, as hockey director.
The San Diego Jr. Gulls have selected longtime coach and rink executive Pierre Dufour as their new director of hockey.
Dufour will succeed Craig Carlyle, the club’s director for the past six years. Carlyle recently stepped down to take a job outside of hockey that will necessitate a family move.
In Dufour the Jr. Gulls are getting an experienced and personable veteran of the San Diego hockey scene. The former NCAA and minor professional player has lived in the area since 2003, when he was hired as the general manager at Escondido Ice-Plex.
Dufour has coached at levels ranging from mini-Mites to Bantam AA for the Jr. Gulls for 15 years, and he oversaw all the hockey programs at Ice-Plex. He has a long history with Jr. Gulls President Geoff Leibl and Registrar Tori Riley. He and Riley also worked together for several years at Ice-Plex.
“Pierre has been an integral part of both the Jr. Gulls program and the San Diego hockey scene for a long time,” Leibl said. “We work well together, as do he and Tori, and we have similar visions about youth hockey.
“One of his strengths is he always tries to make the sport accessible to as many people as possible, make it more affordable. He’s really good at getting people into the game.”
Dufour’s breadth of experience – playing at a high level, coaching youth of all ages and running a bustling rink – will serve the Jr. Gulls well.
“I am very familiar with the area, which will make the transition easier,” he said. “Knowing the landscape well will help the club in the long run.”
Making hockey more accessible will be a key for the Jr. Gulls as they seek to build on the strong foundation that Carlyle grew. Under his watch the Jr. Gulls surged from eight to 22 teams only to see the latter number shrink last year primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Ice-Plex’s closure.
“That was a double whammy for the club,” Dufour said.
The Jr. Gulls have a new home at The Rinks Poway ICE and a direct affiliation with the wildly popular San Diego Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks’ American Hockey League affiliation.
“That is a huge advantage for us to be aligned with the Gulls,” Dufour said. “They are a first-class organization, and they can help raise our profile.”
The Jr. Gulls are committed to growing from the ground up and doing it for the long haul, Dufour and Leibl said.
“We have to continue to focus on the younger ages, building our foundation starts there,” Dufour said.
Added Leibl, “We want to build our program the right way. Start players at a young age, give the kids and their families a great experience so it becomes a sport they enjoy their entire lives.”
One of the reasons for the Jr. Gulls’ success under Carlyle was that he was masterful at building relationships with players and families in the club.
“I can’t say enough about what a good job Craig did with the program,” Dufour said. “I want to thank him for all he’s done for San Diego hockey.”
Added Riley, “Craig was an incredible mentor to kids. He’s serious on the ice, but he knows when to lighten up. He was one of the most accessible hockey directors around. He will tell you what he thinks, but he does everything with integrity and honesty.”
The departure is bittersweet for Carlyle, but his new job opportunity was too good to pass up.
A son of former Anaheim Ducks coach and 18-year NHL veteran Randy Carlyle, Craig arrived in San Diego County in 2011 to coach the Western States Hockey League junior team only a few years after completing his college playing career. In between he coached youth hockey in upstate New York and spent two seasons coaching in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
“Hockey has given my family and me a great life,” he said. “I’m going to miss coaching, the relationships and the friendships I’ve made here.
“We prided ourselves on trying to carry on a tradition of doing things the right way. … We had some AAA and AA success, but I’m proudest of all the young players who got into the sport.”
The Jr. Gulls launched a girls program under Carlyle’s watch, and they also won three CAHA titles in five years, including a AAA banner by the 2002 birth year.
“Craig is a great hockey guy,” Leibl said. “His interaction with players and ability to make them better are strengths. Not only was he really good at coaching but he embraced the hockey director side. He was a lot like (longtime coach) Randy Moy (who passed away last summer after a courageous battle with cancer). They touched almost anyone who came in contact with the program.”
Carlyle made a lasting impact on the Jr. Gulls, something Riley summed up well.
“Craig came in under his father’s name but he is leaving having made his own name.”