New Border Bruins coach cares about culture

Jennifer Small photo


New Grand Forks Border Bruins coach Dave Hnatiuk considers himself a modern day coach.

He wants to create a family setting in the dressing room and wants his players to know he is approachable because if they have a problem, he wants to be their first call for help.

In building a team for next season, along with seeing what the returning players can bring, Hnatiuk wants to know about the person’s character, their dressing room behaviour, if he is liked by teammates and if he is a good teammate. Also, how much do they do in the community? Hnatiuk wants well-balanced people beyond hockey.

“Skill can be developed. You need to have passion and work ethic and you need to be a good person and good character,” says Hnatiuk, whose coaching resume includes a three-year stint as assistant coach with the University of Regina Cougars in U Sports and more recently with the Selkirk Saints.

Hnatiuk wants the Border Bruins to play a bit of old school hockey – finishing checks, being tough and aggressive, but also having ability. He wants a team that creates offensive chances and is responsible defensively.

“I am big on structure, big on systems, accountability,” he says. “Culture is my number one thing. I want guys to feel welcome, be pushed every day. They love coming to that room and to that rink every day.

“I imagine we are going to be a younger team this year with recruiting,” he continued. “It’s going to be about blue collar hockey, working hard, and having some grit, fight, and a compete level.”

Hnatiuk comes to Grand Forks from Castlegar where he coached the Saints in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League. On March 29, Selkirk College announced that the Saints program would be discontinued because of the financial future from COVID-19.

The next day, Hnatiuk got a call from Les Cleverly of the Border Bruins, who fills the role of communications and trainer, wanting to talk about their vacant coach-GM position.

“The process went pretty quickly and easily,” says Hnatiuk. “I suppose when one door closes, the next one opens. I’m really fortunate for the time of it all to go down.”

The Border Bruins are headed into a new era under the direction of owners Dr. Mark Szynkaruk and his wife Tracey, who recently received approval from the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League to purchase the team and transition it from a non-profit society to private ownership.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity, and very thankful to Dr. Mark and Tracey and I’m looking forward to it,” says Hnatiuk. “It will be exciting and a whole new opportunity to lead Bruins hockey into the future.”

Hnatiuk received a five-year contract to rebuild the Border Bruins. He believes it’s a process that will take time and that period allows them to “see the fruits of our labour come out in year four, five.” 

“That’s the plan,” says Hnatiuk, who played professional hockey in Sweden. “Hopefully it goes sooner than that, but at the same time, I think you have to be realistic in the process and how it’s all going to go down and the things we are looking to change. It’s going to take some time.” 

That time frame will also allow Hnatiuk’s family, currently residing in Nelson, to build roots in Grand Forks. 

The experiences he gained while coaching the Cougars and Saints will help him with the Border Bruins. He learned a lot while working under Cougars coach Todd Johnson. Hnatiuk really learned to develop relationships with the players. 

“I think nowadays, in the era and the way the game has gone, and the way coaching is going, I’m a big, big relationships guy and big on culture, big on character,” says Hnatiuk.