Until a couple of weeks ago, Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts’ new bench boss Shane Lukinchuk had never coached anyone over the age of 21, having been working behind benches in the junior ranks since his own playing days ended 10 years ago.
But the native of Kamloops, B.C., believes all players just want someone behind the bench capable of doing the job, regardless of their previous experience.
“Whether they’re 16 or 40, I think they are looking for somebody who is organized and can offer some structure to the program,” explains Lukinchuk, who relocated to the province last winter when his Corner Brook-born wife received a work transfer to her home province
He broke into coaching in 2002 following a season of NCAA Division III hockey with the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Leopards in Boston.
Lukinchuk’s first gig out of college was with the Creston Valley Thunder Cats of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, where he was head coach and general manager until 2007, when he was recruited to be assistant coach and assistant general manager of Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Junior A Hockey League. That was the same circuit Lukinchuk in which plied his trade as a right winger for the Trail Smoke Eaters, Merritt Centennials and Nanaimo Clippers from 1997 to 2001.
He arrived in central Newfoundland in the dead of winter and only began making contacts in the local hockey community in the spring and summer. One of the first people he reached out to was outgoing Cataracts’ coach Brian Casey.
Originally, Lukinchuk’s plan was to put his player development skills to good use by helping out with the local midget program, but once Casey and the Cats’ executive obtained his coaching resume, they spent the summer hounding him to take over the top job.
“Senior isn’t very big back in B.C., certainly not as big as it is here.
“I hadn’t even watched a senior hockey game before, so it was all new to me and I knew this was going to be a challenge,” says the 32-year-old Lukinchuk, who sought advice from his peers back home who have coached senior teams.
“But I’m glad those guys talked me into it.”
Former Cats’ president Paul Glavine was excited to have Lukinchuk come on board this season.
“He’s a hockey guy,” says Glavine. “He’s got a good grasp of the game, and we’re very confident in him taking over. He’s excited to have an opportunity to coach at this level.”
For his part, Lukinchuk says with so little time to spend with the team before the season started —“We’ve only been together a couple of weekends. We didn’t even get to have a training camp” — having Casey and Glavine around to pick their brain was a big help.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he inherited an already disciplined and professional team.
“It’s nice having an older, mature group. For the most part, the nucleus of the guys have been together for a couple of years,” he says.
Standing alongside Lukinchuk on the bench this season is another invaluable source of knowledge in former Cats’ player Jeremy Bishop, who hung up the skates to become assistant coach this year.
“He’s the kind of the guy who’s able to let me know who to look out for, what a team is going to bring as far as their power play and a penalty kill. He’s been around, he knows all the players in the league, so he’s able to get our guys on track and dialed in.”
That said, Lukinchuk made it clear from the outset that dissecting other teams’ tendencies and systems will come later.
“I want to focus my time and energy with the players early in the year (on) creating our own identity and not worrying too much about what our opposition is bringing at us.”
Thus far, the results speak for themselves The Cataracts lead the league at 4-0, thanks largely to a suffocating defence and stellar goaltending from A.J. Whiffen, resulting in just seven goals against — the Western Royals and Gander Flyers, two other teams to have played four games, have both given up 20 goals.
“I want to pride my team on being the best defensive team in the league and I think we’ve done a fairly good job so far. We don’t give a lot up and we’re responsible in our own zone.
“Five-on-five, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
After starting the season with a home-and-home series with the Flyers, the Cataracts will shoot down the Trans Canada Highway this weekend for a two-game set at the Gander Community Centre Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
In the other NLSHL games this weekend, the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars face the visiting Western Royals at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.