(Article written by Jamie Neugebauer)
A message from Commissioner Kyle McIntyre
There are so many great things about the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. We have an outstanding reputation for developing quality hockey players and quality people who have developed and matured while playing or working in the SJHL. We are also known for developing coaches, broadcasters, and officials.
This year we plan on highlighting why the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is premier and why we believe it is one of, if not the best, league in junior hockey with this series entitled: “Saskatchewan’s Finest”. The best players, the best officials, the best coaches, the best fans, and the best billet families. What continues to make Saskatchewan the best are its quality people, their commitment to excellence, and their commitment to one another. Please enjoy this week’s episode!
It may well be true that it takes a village to run a hockey club, but as far as the Battlefords North Stars go, they sure love their village chief.
Brayden Klimosko took over the team’s head coach and general manager gig ahead of the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League campaign and after a run of three different bosses in consecutive seasons, the community longed for stability.
Five years, two championships, three league Coach of the Year Awards, and a National Championship silver medal later, it is fair to say he has more than fulfilled his end of the original bargain.
“We know how lucky we are (to have Brayden),” says long-time Stars’ in-arena announcer Jay Crockett, “as his ability to coach lends itself (to all sorts of opportunities outside of the SJHL) for him and his family.
“The sustained high level and expectations for success leave players, organization and fans believing anything is possible (year after year), and he and his family are staples of our community for many reasons beyond the sport. He is such a humble, down-to-earth person rooted in hockey, and has done such a great job helping our players showcase the great people they are first and exceptional players second. The league is far better with him in it.”
At the time he took the job, the then 31-year-old Klimosko had not been the head coach of anything beyond a season of peewee in his hometown of Humboldt, SK.
Yet winning was in his D.N.A.
He won two league titles as a player between 2006 and 2008, and was part of the Humboldt Broncos Junior A National Championship won in May of 2008 in Cornwall, ONT.
In that tournament, his hometown club was supposed to be the underdogs to the powerful Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League; but playing the role of someone with a chip on his shoulder, with everything to prove was nothing new to him, and something he brings to the office every day.
“I think anyone that knew me as a hockey player knew I lacked skill, there is no doubt about it,” Klimosko says.
“I felt like I was a hard worker, I was able to win the hardest working Bronco for three years, and I think it really shapes the way I coach. I think I bring that same mentality because there are coaches who know more in our league, so I have to make up for my knowledge and do it with hard work. Being in Saskatchewan, I have no schooling of any kind post-secondary, so it’s coaching or bust, this has to work out or I’m stuck doing manual labour, so it’s part of the hard work that I need to be successful.”
The hard-nosed left-winger Brayden became Coach Brayden quickly as the 2010s began. His old coach with the Broncos, Dean Brockman, was looking for someone to fill the void left by his departed father Tim, among others, and so in 2013 a 26-year-old Klimosko, then working as a furniture salesman in Humboldt, jumped right into his first junior coaching role.
He was hired for a season three years later by Kevin Hasselberg, another former North Stars’ bench boss, to assist in Drumheller with the AJHL’s Dragons, but upon the departure of Brandon Heck from Battlefords the next off-season, the club turned to Brayden.
Klimosko is quick to point out that he is living his dream.
“It has been a roller coaster, it has been a wild ride and it has been lots of fun,” he says.
“I count my lucky stars (every day); a lot of people tell me to keep doing what I’m doing. It doesn’t feel like work a lot of days, coming to the rink practicing with the team every day, it’s a pretty special job. Nothing has been handed to me, winning makes you want to earn it more. You work hard, you don’t take it lightly or for granted.”
Together with scouting guru and assistant general manager Wylie Riendeau, and terrific assistants like Rob Holoien (who departed for Prairie Hockey Academy in Caronport, SK two years ago), and his current lieutenant Garry Childerhose, and his whole staff, the Stars have put together elite team after elite team in the four full campaigns Klimosko has been in charge.
They have developed and moved numerous players on, such as last year’s100-point man Holden Doell, who is just beginning his NCAA Division I career at Ferris State University, and captain Jake Southgate, a Battlefords’ local, who is at DI Lindenwood University; and throughout his time at the Access Communications Centre, a vast majority of his guys have left the program as much better players than when they arrived.
To Klimosko, there is no greater satisfaction than that.
“The best part of coaching is the development of people,” Brayden says in an interview with Hockey Canada during the 2023 Centennial Cup.
“Seeing the guys that go Division I is awesome, but the guys that move on that maybe you are not sure if they have much of a path before they get into your hands (is a big reason why I love to do what I do).”
“I was kind of an underrated guy coming into junior,” says Southgate, who started with the Junior Stars in 2020-21 as an unheralded local kid out of his hometown Stars U18 AAA club, “and he transformed my game.
“I came in as a depth guy and…ended up on one of the best lines in (Canadian Junior A hockey, alongside Doell and Kian Bell). He has been unbelievable for my development.”
Klimosko is quick to hand out credit to his father, who worked full time as a carpenter while coaching Brayden and many other elite players in Humboldt from Jr. Novice up to the SJHL. Klimosko gives that same credit to the likes of Brockman, Hasselberg, Ryan Smith, currently the head coach of the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, and the late great Darcy Haugen, for the critical coaching mentorship he has received and has carried him to the successful career he has had so far.
And while offers to move on from Battlefords and the SJHL came in after his club dominated the 2022-23 season, and was just one win away from a national title, he and his family elected to double down on the club and the league, as he signed a five-year contract extension this past off-season.
“There are a couple of reasons (we decided to stay),” he says.
“What the league is doing, marketing itself well, and what Kyle McIntyre is doing as commissioner, (the SJHL is) really trending in the right direction. Seeing 20 ‘D1s’ last year shows we’re moving in the right direction of where hockey is going, so that’s number one. Another couple of reasons: I didn’t have the energy to move. You go through such a long run, the last thing you want to do is uproot your family somewhere else. It really took a month after (the season) to calm down and relax.
“We’re close to home here, to Humboldt, only two-and-a-half hours away, it’s an easy drive and my wife loves it here. She has a great job, my son is in kindergarten here at the same school as her. We always thought I was going to be in Battlefords until he started school, but we feel comfortable here.
“Most of all this is our home, Battlefords has treated us well.”