Captain Liam Stalwick leads the way towards high-fives after scoring a goal.
Leadership among the Grand Forks Border Bruins is strong. It starts with captain Liam Stalwick and is supported by Nathan Cohen-Wallis.
Cohen-Wallis, a product of Canmore, Alta., lets his play do the majority of his talking. However, a nudge by coach-GM John Clewlow has him working on being more vocal in the dressing room.
“It has been a process for sure. Definitely had some good role models in past years,” says Cohen-Wallis, a leader without wearing a letter.
Nathan Cohen-Wallis is a key part of the Grand Forks Border Bruins’ leadership because of his veteran presence.
Peter Kalasz Photography
The third-year Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) forward says it is strange being an older player in the league. Learning from previous leaders on the team, Cohen-Wallis is incorporating those pieces into his day-to-day action at Jack Goddard Memorial Arena and visiting KIJHL rinks. He tries to lead the way as those before him did.
Having that responsibility means everything to the Border Bruins leading scorer. Players look up to him and ask questions, which initially he wasn’t expecting.
“It’s funny the things that guys ask you about. Game day prep and stuff like that,” says Cohen-Wallis, who likes that feeling and joked about puffing his chest out.
While a quiet leader, Clewlow says the veterans play is something teammates follow.
“His work ethic and the way he battles on the ice, that is the kind of leader he is,” says Clewlow, in his second year with the Border Bruins. “I think it is working for him.”
Out with an injury, Cohen-Wallis has 11 goals and 24 points in 14 games. He credits his off-season training with a drive to return stronger from an injury he had sustained last season. He skated with a solid group of players and placed a focus on meditation. He also worked on being more explosive in his first couple steps, which has boosted his two-way play.
“I have been getting a lot of rebounds in front. It just seems that I have been able to get that half-step on defenders,” he explains.
Coming back to the leadership qualities, Clewlow says Cohen-Wallis and Stalwick command the respect of new players. Their play backs up why they are looked up to.
“They can produce points, but they can also play defence,” added Clewlow, who played National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III with Elmira College and five years in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Cohen-Wallis says Stalwick has an intensity, but there is another side to him.
Liam Stalwick captains the Border Bruins with an intensity, which at the right times involves dishing out massive checks on opponents.
Peter Kalasz Photography
“He is also really good at just keeping it loose and goofy when things are not going so well,” he says. “Instead of frustrations boiling over here. It really helps that edge off and keep it loose which is really nice through the grind of the season.”
Clewlow loves Stalwick’s vocal side and it comes out when needed. An example is when the Border Bruins trailed Chase 4-1 heading into the third period on Nov. 1. During an intermission, Clewlow will go in and speak to the players.
“I came in expecting to do another chat, but as I got into the room, Liam was already up talking to the players,” he says. “That was my cue to leave and let him take control of the dressing room. That’s the stuff that makes my job easier, is having leaders like that, that can take control of the room. Get the guys pumped up without me having to do the same thing.”
Cohen-Wallis says teammates respect how hard Stalwick plays.
“Watch him night in, night out just hammering guys,” he says. “He throws the body around, he just crushes people. It’s crazy and I think guys really respect that.”
Stalwick, listed at six-foot-three, 212 pounds, has always played physical and his previous Border Bruins coach Emery Olauson stressed the need to throw his body around.
“If you want to finish the game with the puck on your stick, it opens up more space for you … and it helps open space for your smaller teammates,” says Stalwick, who put up 10 points in 24 games with the Red Lake Miners during the last half of 2018-19 in the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
Stalwick says it was a good experience playing in the SIJHL. There was an adjustment to the older, tougher league, but he adapted.
“It was a good experience to see a different type of hockey and coaching,” he says. “I learned a lot and I stepped up the pace in the playoffs.”
He ultimately decided to return to be closer to family in Red Deer and another reason.
“I just love Grand Forks. It’s like a second home for me. I am treated like a junior A player,” he says.
Wearing the C on his jersey is an honour, especially because of the Border Bruins’ history.
“I just try and play the same way everyday,” he says. “Come to the rink and just try to be the hardest worker on the ice. Be a good role model off the ice for all the boys and around the community.”
Stalwick was a bit surprised to be the players’ vote for captain since he didn’t finish last season with the team.
“It’s nice to see that the guys thought I was a leader throughout camp, into the start of the season,” says Stalwick, who wants to push for a championship and get a banner in Jack Goddard Memorial Arena. “I just try to be a good, responsible role model in front of everyone, around the community. Just coming here to work and show the boys this league and how hard you have to work.”