Matvichuk heading to Burnaby
Richard Matvichuk spent nearly three years in the city as head coach of the Prince George Cougars and now he’s moving to Burnaby, but he won’t be forgetting the friendships he and his family have made in the local sporting community.
That’s especially good news for the Prince George Spruce Kings.
Matvichuk has replaced Maco Balkovec as the hockey director of the Burnaby Winter Club. Balkovec was hired this summer as an assistant coach for Bowling Green University in Wisconsin. He and former Prince George Spruce Kings head coach Adam Maglio had a close relationship which helped open up a pipeline of junior player talent crucial in the Spruce Kings’ development as a B.C. Hockey League powerhouse.
Matvichuk got to know Kings general manager Mike Hawes during his time behind the Cougars’ bench and he intends to keep those Winter Club hockey academy ties with Spruce Kings intact.
“Mike and I worked together a lot and I have a good rapport with Mike and I hope to send as many players as I can to him,” said Matvichuk.
“That’s our ultimate goal is to develop these young athletes, not just into hockey players, but into people in the community and the culture, and schooling is obviously a big part of what we do. The chance for them to be able to go to the B.C. league and obviously our relationship with the Spruce Kings has been fantastic. Some of our players have moved on (to college hockey) from there. That team, with what it’s done the last two years, kind of speaks for itself.”
Former Kings stars Ethan de Jong, Kyle Johnson, Liam WatsonBrawn, Ben Brar and Ben Poisson, as well as current team members Nick Poisson, Nick Bochen, Fin Williams and Nolan Welsh all played bantam and midget hockey at BWC before they came to the Spruce Kings.
The BWC alumni wall of fame includes NHL players Dante Fabbro (Nashville Predators), Matthew Barzal (New York Islanders), Ryan Nugent Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers), Karl Alzner (Montreal Canadiens) and retired pros Glenn Anderson, Curtis Joseph, Paul Kariya and Cliff Ronning.
“We’ve had some great success in the past, which helps us recruit families and the name recognition kind of sells itself,” said Matvichuk. “When you say Burnaby Winter Club, people know what you’re talking about.”
Matvichuk’s teams will play in the Canadian School Sports Hockey League against St. George’s School, a Vancouver-based hockey academy. The head of the hockey program at St. Georges is now Todd Harkins, who served four years as general manager of the Prince George Cougars and was there for two of the seasons Mavichuk coached the WHL team. Harkins, whose contract with the Cougars ended in 2018, served last season as hockey director at West Van Academy in North Vancouver.
“Todd is doing a similar role and he’s having fun doing it, he’s back where his house is (in North Vancouver) and where his family’s been,” said Matvichuk.
BWC is hosting the annual Pat Quinn Tournament in December, which will bring teams from Canada and the United States. Several teams from Dallas, where Matvichuk won the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999, are on the entry list.
Matvichuk was fired as Cougars coach Feb,. 6, after the team lost its 11th straight game, a streak that went on for a club-record 17 games. He compiled an 85-89-1210 record in nearly three seasons and was at the helm when the Cats suffered a first-round playoff loss to Portland after winning the B.C. Division, the first regular-season title in the team’s 25-year Prince George history. The Cougars have since missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
“You can only coach with the cards that were handed to you and looking back now after several months we feel as a coaching staff we did exactly what we could have done,” Matvichuk said. “We made the decision three years ago to go all in (making trades for older players) and the Cougars are kind of paying the price for it. It’s probably going to take a couple years with draft picks and trades and rebuilding to get them back to where they were a couple years ago.
“My time in Prince George was fantastic and that first year we had we were successful in more ways than just on the ice. We got kids drafted and signed and moved kids on to (U Sports Canadian university hockey) and I felt we did a great job and I’m proud to be part of it. It’s obviously easier to replace one guy than 20 and as coaches we know we’re kind of hired to be fired and you turn a page and move on to another chapter.”
Matvichuk was born in Edmonton and grew up in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., playing baseball as well as hockey and he’s been utilizing his coaching talents on the ball diamond working with head coach Brad Feniuk this summer on the LTN Contracting Knights midget single-A team which played its provincial tournament over the weekend in Mission. Matvichuk’s 15-year-old son, Dylan, was part of that team which went 3-2 in the tournament but did not advance to the playoff round.
“We worked all summer to get to this point and we have a great bunch of kids and the good thing, just like hockey, is we’ve gotten better every day,” he said.
Matvichuk and his wife Tracy have a 12-year-old son, Dalton, who took the year off playing all-star baseball. Both are hockey players and they’ll be trying out for the Winter Club’s academy teams.
Richard Matvichuk coaches the Prince George Cougars during training camp in September 2016. The team fired Matvichuk in February but now the retired NHL defenceman has a new post as the hockey director of the Burnaby Winter Club.