Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Kaminski brings renewed optimism to struggling Ice Wolves

By Dave Leaderhouse

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of features on the 12 head coaches in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League that will run every Friday throughout the summer. The intent is to familiarize the fans with those who are in charge of the various clubs as there has been a significant turnover in the last couple of seasons. Often ready to take a backseat to the players, as those are the ones who deserve to be in the spotlight, the coaches and general managers shoulder the responsibility for putting the product on the ice and rightfully deserve credit for making the SJHL one of the premiere Junior “A” leagues in the country.

Next year will be different!

That is probably one of the most-used clichés in sport, but for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s La Ronge Ice Wolves there is a strong belief that the upcoming season will be different and a big reason for that is the new face guiding the team behind the bench.

After recording just 12 wins, and missing the playoffs for the third straight year (they have actually only played beyond the regular schedule once in the last six seasons), the Ice Wolves replaced head coach and general manager Evan Vossen with former professional player and long-time minor pro coach Kevin Kaminski.

What makes that so intriguing is that Kaminski was as colourful of a player as there could be and his coaching style reflects that same character to a degree.

“As a player I guess you could say I liked to mix things up a bit; as a coach you have to teach, but the most important thing is to develop a positive culture,” says Kaminiski.

“I know things haven’t been good here the last three years, but my expectations are always high,” adds Kaminski. “I don’t just want to squeeze into the playoffs. I feel we can be a contender.”

The 50-year-old product from Churchbridge, Sask., has pretty much played or coached in every corner of North America in the last three decades. After scoring 103 points in 32 games of Midget AAA hockey with the Saskatoon Blazers, Kaminski spent three years in the Western Hockey League with the Saskatoon Blades. There he continued to put up points at better than a point-per-game clip (240 points in 183 games), but he also accumulated 823 penalty minutes during that time.

That combination, and maybe the addition of the moniker “killer”, got the attention of the Minnesota North Stars as Kaminiski was selected in the third round of the 1987 NHL entry draft. He only played in one game with the North Stars before being dealt to the Quebec Nordiques and over the course of the next 10 years would see action in 139 NHL games, mostly with the Washington Capitals.

Kaminski spent the majority of his playing career in the minors and he certainly left his mark. In 386 games at several American Hockey League and International Hockey League stops he tallied 247 points while accumulating more than 2,300 minutes in penalties. His style got him voted as the fan favourite while playing with the Portland Pirates and it also helped that franchise capture a Calder Cup championship.

Concussions, however, ended his playing career prematurely, but he immediately jumped behind the bench and his first coaching job was to assist Mike Babcock in Cincinnati. From there he was a head coach throughout the United States guiding teams in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Youngstown, Portland, Long Beach and most recently Fresno.

Now the circle is complete and Kaminski says he couldn’t be happier.

“The timing was right,” says Kaminski. “I turned down the Melville job three years ago as I still had kids in school. Now I can be closer to my dad and my girlfriend is in Saskatoon.”

While building a better product on the ice is his primary goal, Kaminski says developing a relationship with the fans, volunteers and the entire community is equally as important.

“It’s important to show support to them like they do to us,” notes Kaminski, who continues to host an annual golf tournament in his hometown to help raise funds for underprivileged kids.

Helping Kaminski with the Ice Wolves is another Blade alum, Gaelen Patterson, who moves into an associate coach/assistant general manager role after being Vossen’s assistant last season. Kaminski says they are on the same page for what they want to see develop this year.

“We want to play with a high tempo and lots of physicality,” says Kaminski. “We need to have a stingy “D” and create turnovers. Then maybe we can have some fun in the offensive zone.”

The last game Kaminski was ever involved in in Saskatchewan was a heartbreaking loss in the 1989 Memorial Cup final when as the host team the Blades fell to the Swift Current Broncos. Three decades on Kaminski is looking to have a happier ending by literally leading the Ice Wolves out of the hinterlands.