‘Cats introduce new bench boss

Chris Roberts/Courtesy of lloydminstersource.com

The Lloydminster Bobcats wasted little time in setting their sights on next season, announcing on Monday that Garry VanHereweghe would be taking over as the team’s head coach and general manager.

VanHereweghe was hired as director of player personnel last summer to provide experience to an organization that had just hired rookie head coach Ryan Parent. He had made it clear he was interested in coaching at the time, and when Parent was fired in January and VanHereweghe was given the general manager role, the next step was all too obvious for both parties.

“When the competition opened up in January I thought about it, whether I was the right fit, whether it was the right time in my career moving forward. And as I watched the organization and spent more time in the community and became more familiar, that’s when I made the decision that, if there was an opportunity to apply for coach and G.M that I wanted to do that,” said VanHereweghe on Monday, adding that he formally gave the Bobcats notice he was interested about a month ago.

Kyle Tapp, who acted as the team’s interim head coach from January onward, had visibly improved the on-ice product, but didn’t stack up on the hockey operations side, said team president Robert Heffner.

“Kyle just couldn’t fit the whole mold of what we were looking for, his abilities on the ice were very, very good, but when you look at a GM/coach, just from a maturing standpoint, I don’t think Kyle was there quite yet,” said Heffner. “If he apprentices and follows the lead of good coaches like Garry, I think down the road Kyle could become a very good AJHL coach.”

He stressed that it’s likely that VanHereweghe is only with the team for two, maybe three years, before he retires, and whomever is hired as the assistant coach could very well be VanHereweghe’s successor.

“We’re building for the future, Garry will train somebody, I’m not sure who it is, but he will train somebody to fill his shoes,”said Heffner.

In the meantime, VanHereweghe brings a decorated resumé to the club, one that includes an RBC Cup in 2001 with the Camrose Kodiaks. More recently he has been behind the bench of the Okotoks Oilers. He has also spent time as an assistant coach for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers and Prince Albert Raiders.

“Garry brings that mature, professional, honest integrity to the Bobcats organization,” Heffner added.

Van Hereweghe said he’s looking forward to coaching in the North Division for the first time. When coaching for both Camrose and Okotoks in the South, he always saw Lloydminster as “A team that was always well supported, a team that was always competitive.”

In making the hire in early March, the organization has ensured that VanHereweghe is in a position to better execute his grand design for the team – to get younger and add character players.

This season, despite being a last-place team, the Bobcats were laden with veteran players. And going into next season, defenceman Austin Yaremchuk and winger Ryley Wozniak are the team’s only players born after 1994.

“That will be our focus, right from spring camp on, is to identify and certainly acquire some young guys that we can have come in and complement the older core of returning players,” VanHereweghe made clear on Monday.

In regard to the nine ‘93-born players on the team’s roster, he added “We’re going to have to deal with that situation.”

AJHL teams are only allowed to keep six 20-year-olds, meaning at least three of those ‘93-born players won’t be with the team next season.

He also said acquiring and recruiting skilled forwards will be a main focus this summer, but again stressed the importance of “character” players.

“One of the strengths that I’ve had success with is finding character players, they certainly have to have the skills and abilities to play at this level, but I found to get over the top and challenge for championships, bringing in character players is huge.

“The little I did know about these players coming in, and what I’ve learned about them over the year with the exit interviews and what not, I think this team has a lot of character to build on.”