CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Joe Salerno knows tonight is going to be strange.
The man, who coached the Island Storm through its first six seasons, returns to the Eastlink Centre with a new squad and heads for the visiting team’s locker room for the first time.
“I’m sure, in the couple hours leading up to the game, it’ll probably be a little emotional for myself. I was there for an awfully long time,” Salerno said Wednesday. “I think seeing a lot of fans that I grew very close with over the years will be a little bit difficult. . . Once the ball goes up, I think, all of that will go away very quickly, and we’ll just be focused on the game.”
The Storm hosts the Moncton Magic at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre.
Salerno and the Storm parted way after last season. Salerno interviewed with a couple of teams and was hired by the Magic.
He won’t be the only former Storm making a return to Charlottetown tonight. The Magic roster includes longtime Storm captain Al Stewart, the league’s reining Canadian player of the year, Terry Thomas, and forwards Jeremy Williams and Tirrell Baines.
“I think that's really helped me in the initial transition to another team, having so many familiar faces,” Salerno said, noting the list also includes league veterans Anthony Anderson and Tim Mitchell.
While each win counts the same in the standings, Salerno didn’t duck the question when asked if tonight’s would mean more than some.
“I’d probably be lying if I said it didn’t,” he said. “I have been really, really focused on just my team and our organization here. We want to get off to a good start.”
Salerno became the National Basketball League of Canada's all-time winningest coach in league history on Jan. 29, 2016, when he surpassed Michael Ray-Richardson with his 102nd win. He guided the Storm to the semifinal twice and the league final twice in six seasons.
Some fans have reached out to Salerno and wished him well this season.
“Storm fans are great fans,” he said. “They’re supportive of the Storm and I know them and I fully expect them to be supportive of the Storm whether I’m there or Al Stewart is there or Terry Thomas is there or not.
“Myself, and some of our players, have established some relationships over there and I think we all did an awful lot in that community and I feel like I did a lot for basketball on Prince Edward Island,” he said. “I think there’s still some fans that appreciate that and would like to see us do well, but also want to see the Storm win.”
The Magic opened the season with a 96-89 loss to the St. John’s Edge Wednesday night at home. Salerno said the Magic ownership have run a professional organization and are committed to winning.
“It’s been a great transition,” he said. “I’m excited about the roster we put together.”