It’s been a long, tough season once again for the Grand Forks Border Bruins. The junior B team has struggled on the ice, winning only eight games all season and none in the past three months. Although, that’s not actually true as they were awarded a forfeit win for a February game where Nelson used an ineligible player.
The season started with great hope as the squad brought in Brad Snyder, who had good success in Saskatchewan and certainly looked to have the pedigree. Snyder brought in some new players from the prairies and the team had some solid returning talent back but from almost the get-go the team struggled.
Snyder was eventually let go in November and replaced by Darryl Olsen, a former NHLer from Salt Lake City. Olsen only stayed for two weeks due to a conflict with his other coaching commitments. Long-time assistant and Bruins board member Matt Zamec took over the team after that and coached until the end of the season.
“Everyone had really high hopes and high expectations (for Brad) because he had been in the game for so many years,” said Zamec. “The expectations were just not met. It wasn’t that he was necessarily a terrible coach. It was just the expectations everyone put on him—he fell short.”
Zamec said that with the returning talent, the Bruins didn’t fulfill their promise and weren’t improving.
The Bruins board was excited to bring Olsen in. Olsen had a strong background as a former professional player and development coach. He’s the father of current Florida Panther Dylan Olsen.
“He was our top choice but it just wasn’t going to work out,” said Zamec. “Unfortunately, he came for two weeks and then he had to go back. His commitments (in Salt Lake) made it impossible for him to return. He works as a coach of a midget team there and as a skill development coach for an organization.”
Zamec said Olsen’s employer in Salt Lake wouldn’t allow him the time off to coach in Grand Forks.
With Olsen out of the picture, Zamec stepped in and took over as coach for the remainder of the season.
The Bruins will be searching for a new coach/general manager immediately.
Key for the Bruins moving forward will be the hiring of a new coach/general manager. Zamec said the board of directors is using their contacts in the coaching world to search for a strong candidate.
“We’re out there recruiting rather than blanket random resume collecting,” he said. “We want to recruit a coach that we know will do a good job here.”
Zamec said there is no chance that the team will be moving anytime soon.
“It’s been here for over 40 years,” he said. “The Bruins are one of the founding teams of the league. There’s been a team here since 1969 (other than two one-year leaves of absence). The tradition is there. There have been rough times; we haven’t made the play-offs in awhile. It’s a community team and someone always steps up. It’s the volunteers that make it run.”
Zamec said the most important thing moving forward is stability of the franchise. He notes the chicken and egg conundrum of not being able to attract and retain top players because the team is not winning, and the team isn’t winning because they don’t have top players.
“This is the frustrating thing as a coach and an organization — We’ve got players that have been here a number of years and developed into quality players. They start to get frustrated and want to move on,” said Zamec. “Players only have three or four years so if things aren’t going well they want to move go to a winner.”
Zamec said the team has the potential to return a lot of their strong players and have a much improved team.
“The goal is to get some stability so the players we have here this year will want to return,” he said. “We want to bring in a coach who will be here for a few years and who players will want to play for. Once we have those veteran players wanting to be here and wanting to finish their careers…that’s the formula successful teams use.”
Zamec credited several players and in particular captain Tucker Brown and defenceman Reid Robertson. Robertson was named team MVP at the Bruins’ awards night held on Feb. 12.
“Reid is a 17 year-old defenceman affiliated with the Trail Smoke Eaters,” said Zamec. “He played a few games there. He’s probably one of the better defencemen in the league. He’s got a good future ahead of him if he works hard.”
Brown is known league-wide as a tough, hard-working forward. He certainly showed that the last month as he kept battling hard even with an injured knee. Zamec said that Brown was in the line-up right until four minutes left in the last period of the last game when he was finally forced to pack it in.
Zamec also praised the leadership of Coleman MacDonald, a 20 year-old forward from Spokane. “He was a very inspirational type of player,” he said. “He was really emotionally invested in the team. It was his last year.”
The Bruins finished their season off with two well attended home games on the weekend. On Saturday, Grand Forks lost to the Kimberley Dynamiters 8-3 after being down 7-0 midway through the second period. The surging Nitros had won nine straight games going in. Scoring for the Bears were Keven Moreau, Coleman MacDonald and Matt Lucero.
The following day GF faced division leading Beaver Valley and fell 8-4 in their final game of the season. Nico Sidoni picked up player of the game honours for the Bruins after scoring two goals and nabbing an assist. Also scoring for GF was Logan Hascari.
“We had a lot of fans show up,” said coach Matt Zamec. “It was probably our best attendance of the year.”
Zamec said the games weren’t as lopsided as the scores showed.
“Our boys just make some mistakes defensively,” he said. “All our regular goalies were injured. We had a couple of 15 year-old goaltenders who we brought up for the weekend from Osoyoos and Castlegar. They held their own. They played really well. But we played some skilled teams and we gave them chances, which they buried. We probably had as many chances as them but they converted theirs.”