One half of the 2017-18 Battlefords North Stars coaching staff will be a familiar face returning home and the other will be making the jump from bantam AAA.
On Wednesday morning, the North Stars introduced Brandon Heck as the team's next head coach and general manager, and former North Star player and Battleford native Boyd Wakelin as its next assistant coach.
Heck, a Forestburg, Alta., native, has spent the last four seasons coaching the bantam AAA Camrose Red Wings. He was named Alberta Major Bantam League coach of the year in 2016.
"I want to thank [the board] from the bottom of my heart for taking a chance on me," Heck said in his introduction at the press conference. "It's very humbling and I'm excited to get going in the Battlefords.
"I'm looking forward to making the Battlefords proud. Great tradition here. Lots of big names have come through here. I think of [Edmonton Oilers coach] Todd McLellan, this being his first job, and I look to provide the Battlefords community with great entertainment."
The 32-year-old played 78 career junior A games between 2003 and 2005, 57 with the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and 21 with the Drayton Valley Thunder of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He recorded 71 points in his one season with the Flyers, and nine points in his 21 games in the AJHL, while also serving as assistant captain in his final junior season.
Following his junior career, Heck played NCAA Div. III hockey in Vermont with Castleton State College (now Castleton University) for four seasons, topping the century mark in career points and serving as captain for one season. He totalled 111 points in 104 games in his four seasons from 2005-09, which was the most in school history at the time of his departure. He was also recently named to the school's all-decade team.
"The Saskatchewan league is my style of play," Heck added. "It's fast and physical.
"I prefer to play an aggressive style. I'm not talking fighting and stuff. It's in your face, hard on pucks, outwork other teams...[and] I like to play defence by having the puck."
Wakelin, meanwhile, played his entire junior career with the Battlefords North Stars, totalling 133 games between 2007-12. He scored 21 goals and added 16 assists in those 133 games. He added five goals and seven points in 27 career Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff games.
"I'm just hoping to use my experience of playing here and continuing in college, to use that experience to help work with [Heck] to bring the best we can to the players," Wakelin said. "This is pretty special...I grew up as a kid watching the North Stars and then I was fortunate enough to play for the team, so now to take a step away from playing the game and be behind the bench, it's pretty exciting for me."
The 26-year-old just wrapped up a five-year college career at the University of Alberta-Augustana, where he recorded 41 points in 124 career games.
North Stars vice-president Tanner Daniels said the decision to hire Wakelin had already been decided for quite some time, as former head coach Nate Bedford brought him in to the fold.
As for why there was such a long wait before the board decided on Heck, Daniels said the team was simply doing their due diligence.
"When we hire somebody, we're not doing it because we're fighting against a ticking timebomb," he said. "We're doing it because we're finding the right fit [and] turning over all the stones we can to find that right fit.
"Why Brandon? I keep going back to a point in the interview with him. I was pressing on him...about the jump from bantam to junior A and what do you say to people who would say you're not ready to do it? And he looked me straight in the eye and said, 'I'll tell you what, if you don't hire me, you're going to regret it.' I don't take that lightly and I honestly believe him when you look at his work ethic."
A strong history of developing young players also stood out to the board. Heck had eight WHL draft picks on his 2016-17 bantam AAA Red Wings squad, which Daniels said was the most in Western Canada.
When Heck took over the Wings in 2013-14, the team was coming off a season with just one win in 33 games. In his first year, he improved them to 15-12-6. Last year, they went 23-8-5.
"Part of why we really liked Brandon as a candidate was his success as somebody who was able to develop players," Daniels said. "Obviously we're looking forward to seeing that in play here."
Heck added he would consider himself a player's coach and that sitting down with players to have honest conversations is important.
"I am a player's coach but I'm fair and want my team to play the right way and represent the community the right way," he said. "So we have to buy in."
Daniels also announced on Wednesday morning that current president Troy Slywka will be resigning from his position as of Friday.
"We would like to thank him for all his hard work and dedication over the last few years," Daniels said. "If there's something to say for Troy, he's probably the kindest, most dedicated individual I think I've ever met. We definitely wish him the best going forward."
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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