Thunderbirds announce Garrett Rutledge as new head coach

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Carolina Thunderbirds have hired Garrett Rutledge as head coach and director of hockey operations. Rutledge is just the second head coach in franchise history.

“We’re excited to have Garrett on board. He brings a very high level of knowledge and work ethic to the position,” said General Manager Kelly Curl. “We are excited to see his transition from the OHL to the FPHL and look forward to his style of coaching.”

Rutledge comes to Carolina from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)’s Saginaw Spirit, where he served as the video coach since 2019. Prior to Saginaw, Rutledge began his OHL career as a scout and later an assistant coach with the Flint Firebirds.

“We’re thrilled to bring in a head coach who thinks the game at such a high level,” said part-owner Cary Ross. “Garrett brings a wealth of knowledge with him from the premier junior league in North America.”

Saginaw went 41-16-3-2 in 2020, their 87 points leading the West division standings when the season was suspended due to COVID-19. The Spirit also scored the league’s second most goals that year with 289 in the pandemic-shortened season. Rutledge has worked extensively with high-level prospects, including the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft, Cole Perfetti.

“What I’ve learned over the years is we’re going to have fun when we come to the rink. If you look forward to coming to the rink and seeing the boys every day, it makes things a lot more enjoyable, and obviously you’re going to have success if you enjoy coming to play,” said Rutledge. “If guys don’t believe in you, they’re never going to ‘run through the wall’ for you.”

Rutledge has described himself as a coach who welcomes high-pressure situations, as well as one his players tend to gravitate towards.

“From the very beginning, Garrett expressed his commitment to bringing a championship back to Carolina,” added owner Barry Soskin. “We believe in his ability to develop relationships with our players and put a winning team on the ice.”

Rutledge is already looking forward to his arrival in Carolina and wanted to see what the atmosphere was like. “I can’t wait to actually get there and see the facility. I actually watched two games last night on YouTube, I was very impressed with the quality, the fans going crazy, and the pace of play,” said the coach.

Prior to breaking into the OHL, Rutledge coached several Junior B and Tier 2 teams in his native province of Ontario.

Rutledge will walk onto the bench as Carolina’s head coach for the first time on October 29th for the team’s home opener against Delaware.