By Dave Leaderhouse
Photo credit: Robert Murray/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
(Part of the story was inadvertently omitted from the original post. Below is the original article in its entirety.)
The current calendar year has been challenging, to say the least, but finally Nate Bedford has something positive to build on.
After watching his former job at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alta., being eliminated in April and then have his home burn to the ground as a result of the massive wild fire that consumed that northern city, Bedford is back on his feet as the new head coach and general manager of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Battlefords North Stars.
“People have had harder times than us,” says Bedford with impressive bravado. “We lost everything, but we at least had back-up plans. Others didn’t.”
Originally from Peterborough, Ont., the 36-year-old Bedford says he was back in Ontario when the North Stars’ position became available after Kevin Hasselberg stepped down to take a job in the professional ranks.
“I was actively looking for a job, but not actively looking for a hockey job,” admitted Bedford. “I had a few job offers in the education system, so I wasn’t necessarily (focused) on being a hockey coach.”
“When this came up though I thought it was a shot in the dark,” added Bedford.
Last season Bedford guided the Huskies’ hockey team to a bronze-medal finish in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, the best finish a Keyano College men’s hockey team had ever produced. He already had recruiting plans underway when he says he, along with everyone else, was blindsided by the cost-cutting measure of eliminating the program.
“It was a complete surprise,” says Bedford. “We were given 24 hours notice they were going to cut the program.”
Then came the wildfire just weeks later!
“I haven’t been back to Fort McMurray since our house burnt down.”
Bedford, his wife and young child headed east and it looked like they were going to be settling down in Ontario when the job in the Battlefords opened up. After being offered the job last week his family was just recently reunited and now it is time to get down to the business at hand and that is to continue with the winning tradition that was established by Hasselberg.
“When you try to emulate someone else you lose focus on what you are good at,” stated Bedford. “I think I can motivate people; I’m fair, honest and I work hard. I’m confident I can walk into a room and get the most of them.”
His brief introduction to Saskatchewan has been very positive including getting plenty of help from his predecessor.
“The league has been fantastic – almost every team has reached out to me – and Kevin has been very helpful,” says Bedford. “The community has been very welcoming too. The only thing I can say is that I haven’t had a chance to talk to all of the kids.”
That will change shortly with training camp opening up at the end of the month and Bedford says this is the time of year every hockey person lives for.
“It’s a fresh slate,” says Bedford. “I’m excited to meet these guys and hopefully take it to the next step.”
That next step would be a championship as the North Stars are coming off a remarkable season where they easily captured the Finning Division title and were regular-season champions as well. A hard-fought semi-final series against the Flin Flon Bombers ended their season earlier than expected, but now it is up to Bedford to continue that climb.
Welcome to the SJHL Nate and may the hockey and friendships you make smooth out the waters you have crossed so far in 2016.