Kyle Laslo is among the top-10 players in Osoyoos Coyotes history.
Jen Jensen Photography
Reflecting on the Osoyoos Coyotes history, their inaugural season in 2010-11 reminds owner Randy Bedard of the Vegas Golden Knights.
The big difference though is that the expansion Coyotes capped off a 42-win season with a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) championship.
“Obviously you come into the league and everybody thinks you are going to be a weak sister, but we just tore it up in our first year,” says Bedard, who initially started the Coyotes with John Kapusty and Roy Schultz. “Set the bar really high. That’s a great thing, but what happens on occasion too is the expectation moving forward every year is that you are going to be that good.”
That first season is the highlight of the Coyotes history because as Bedard puts it, “it was so unique in winning a championship.”
“For the most part we have been there. The last couple of years, we have been trying to find a bit of an identity. It has been a little bit of a road back to where we were,” he says.
Coyotes fans still talk about that first season nine years later. The group was led by local products Stefan Jensen and Thierry Martine. The pair combined for 91 goals and 178 points. Jensen scored the first goal in Coyotes history.
Thierry Martine formed an explosive 1-2 punch with Stefan Jensen.
Jen Jensen Photography
“I was right on the boards at the blue line, I took a quick snapshot about five feet in … and went post and in far side,” recalls Jensen vividly. “The goalie wasn’t really expecting it. That was something I like to do, shoot the puck so much. I would always shoot when the goalie wasn’t ready. It helped me get 46 goals that year.”
Jensen, who played in the KIJHL for three years previously, decided to come home to finish his junior career. As the Oliver product notes, he had never seen the Sunbowl Arena that packed in a long time. They averaged between 500 to 800 fans a game. It was about 15 games into the season when the group had confidence they could win every game.
“It was a great group of guys. We always hung out together,” says Jensen, now a finance manager at a Volkswagen dealership in Lethbridge.
Jensen played with a torn ankle when he was slew footed in their series against the Castlegar Rebels. With the exception of one game, he played through the injury because he didn’t want to miss anything.
One thing Jensen will always remember about fans is what happened after they won the KIJHL championship in Castlegar.
“We didn’t get back into Osoyoos until 1 a.m.,” he says. “There was 100 people waiting for us. I was the last one off the bus and carried the trophy. That was awesome.”
The local products setup the building blocks for the Coyotes and for Bedard, it is great when they can find locals skilled enough to play in the KIJHL. They want to ice the best product possible. If that includes locals, it’s even better.
“Fans like to see it, but they also want you to be very competitive,” says Bedard. “If you don’t have those players or don’t have as many local players, who can play in the league, then, that’s not the direction you can take. I think we have been very fortunate from year-to-year.”
Among Bedard’s favourite players are Kyle Laslo, Jensen and Martine because of their leadership and how well they played. Colin Chmelka and Judd Repole are other favourites.
Those players are part of a top-10 all-time list that includes Aaron Azevedo, Colin Bell, Rainer Glimpel, Shane Hanna and Daniel Stone.
Shane Hanna moved on from the Coyotes to play two season in the B.C. Hockey League with Penticton and his hometown Salmon Arm Silverbacks, then eventually making his way to the American Hockey League. According to www.hockeydb.com, Hanna is playing professionally in Denmark.
Jen Jensen Photography
While players are a key to on-ice success, so is the man behind the bench. Bedard praises former coach Ken Law for what he put into the program.
“The talent and the competitiveness, definitely he was a huge part of that,” says Bedard. “He is having similar success in Kelowna. I totally respect Ken Law for everything he did.”
Bedard is proud of the Coyotes longevity, which surpasses that of other junior organizations (the Rebels, Heat and Storm) the community has had in the KIJHL. Being a hands-on owner, Bedard focuses on the business side. Between dealing with sponsors, billeting and volunteers, he says it’s a full-time job. He praises the volunteers and billet families involved because without them, the Coyotes couldn’t exist.
The business community has embraced the organization, with 150-plus supporting as corporate partners. They have about 130 season ticket holders.
“I’m very grateful for the support that comes out of this community,” says Bedard, who decided to recognize the Coyotes history with special jerseys they are playing with all season.