By Dave Leaderhouse
For someone wanting to get his feet wet coaching at a higher level, Brandon Heck couldn’t have drawn up a better scenario.
The 32-year-old Forestburg, Alta., product takes over the reins of the defending Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champion Battlefords North Stars in his first foray into coaching at the Junior “A” level.
“I think coaching older and more mature players will be interesting,” says Heck just days before his regular-season debut. “When you draw something up they will get it.”
“I really wanted to coach Junior “A” hockey and see where I stand at a higher level,” added Heck. “The fact that they won last year and it is fairly close to home also played a role (in his decision to apply for the position.)”
The North Stars are coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history after posting a 48-9-1-0 record to run away with the regular-season championship. In the playoffs they continued their domination as they were a perfect 12-0 to claim their first league title in 17 years.
That was with Nate Bedford behind the bench, but after one season Bedford opted to move on opening the door for Heck.
“We have a good crew of veteran players with junior hockey experience,” notes Heck. “The culture of this group has really amazed me.”
Heck’s hockey background has covered plenty of ground.
As a player he toiled in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with Bonneyville and Drayton Valley while also seeing some time in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with Winkler. He followed up his junior career with four years of college hockey at Castleton University in Vermont where he received a sports administration degree.
For the last several years Heck has been coaching Bantam AAA teams in Camrose, Alta., where he improved that club’s record from a one-win season to last year having eight of his players selected in the annual Western Hockey League bantam draft.
His introduction to the SJHL and his new surroundings has been relatively smooth although he admits playing seven pre-season games in eight days was a bit of a shock.
“I’m happy hell week is over,” laughs Heck. “To come in here and see how hard the returning players work – I just don’t want to let them down.”
“The community has been very nice and welcoming to me,” added Heck. “They are very passionate about their hockey – I love it here.”
Having little familiarity with the league and the other 11 teams will take some time for Heck to adjust to, especially in the manager’s role where he admits there will be an even bigger learning curve, but he is confident in his abilities.
“I try not to make the same mistake twice,” admits Heck. “I have a few connections who have given me some good advice.”
Former Battlefords’ player Boyd Wakelin has been added to the coaching staff as an assistant and together they will seek a third straight regular-season banner and second league title when they open the regular season on Friday in Kindersley against the Klippers.
“I put enough pressure on myself; I don’t feel any added pressure,” states Heck when assessing what he has inherited and what is likely expected from the Battlefords’ faithful. “There is still some prep to do, but we’ll be ready.”
Welcome to the league Brandon and good luck in your new venture with the North Stars.