The Fort Frances Lakers have hired a hockey veteran as its latest addition. Long-time coach Bernie Lynch has joined the bench as head coach. He replaces Milt Strachan, who stepped down from the role earlier this summer.
Lynch will be coming in from Edmonton in late September, but he's no stranger to travel – over his career, he's coached in eight different countries and across most of Canada.
“I'm really looking forward to moving there. It's about the only part of Canada I haven't lived in,” joked Lynch.
The 47 year veteran coach was an exciting find for the Lakers franchise, said Gary Silander. He beat out nine other candidates for the job, with his passion and enthusiasm putting him over the top.
“He had passion and joy in his voice during the interview about being a coach. He has a passion for the game and he's way more than qualified,” said Silander. “He wants to take each one of these kids, and in his words, they'll each be like his child for the winter. He's good. He cares about the kids. He's not just there to coach. He loves the game. You can hear that in his voice.”
He's also loved by his players, said Silander; several of Lynch's former players have been asking about moving to the Lakers, to follow him.
“He's got quite a rapport, as far as the kids go,” he said.
Knowing players are eager to follow him is a badge of honour for Lynch.
“I once had a guy at a job interview ask me how many plaques and trophies do you have on your wall. I said, they just collect dust. My plaques and trophies are the guys that are happy to play for me,” he said. “One of the best compliments as a coach is probably the same as a teacher, is when you run into your players, and whether it's 30 years down the road or the next season, and they appreciate what you did for them, and the teaching that you did for them and the insight into the game you gave them, the opportunities that you gave them. That's a just reward for me.”
Sports and travel come naturally to Lynch; he was born on a Canadian military base in Germany. His father, a WW2 pilot, was in charge of the soldiers' sports, fitness and recreation programs after the war. When they returned to Canada, his parents and five siblings settled in the Ottawa area, where Lynch attended high school.
“That's where hockey really started taking off for me,” he said. He moved to Norway to continue his career. He dappled in coaching from the time he was 18, but as a player, reached the country's top league before a car accident forced him to reconsider his options.
“It was going to be a long time before I could walk normally again, so I had to leave hockey,” he said. But at the urging of the other players, he decided to give coaching a shot.
“They asked if I would help out with one of the teams. But before I even got to the team, the coach quit, and I took over. We had a great year, so I just decided to stay a coach,” he said. “You don't see many people do it full time anymore, but there are a few. It's a passion. It's what I like to do and I've made a career of it. I'm trying to make it to 50 years!”
Over his career, he's had many high points. He was the assistant coach in Norway at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, has coached eight world hockey championships, 15 National championships across several countries, and has nurtured many underdog teams to victory.
“Arriving back in Canada for the first time, when I coached the Humboldt Broncos, they threw a fault book at me, and said 'good luck.' Going from there to the National Championship was quite exciting,” he said.
He's looking forward to seeing what he can do for the Lakers, and meeting the people and players. He's also hoping to share part of the adventure with his two grown children.
“They're doing well, they have their careers and they're happy in Regina. It's a long drive from Saskatchewan, but my daughter has said she'd like to come out and visit,” he said. “That would be really nice. It would be nice to see them.”
The first step in his new role is assembling a team. Outgoing coach Milt Strachan had done some coaching and signing over the summer months, but there are still several spots to fill.
“I'm trying to find some players to put on the ice, so we can have a quality hockey team that the community can be proud of, and are willing to come watch us play,” he said. “I'm looking forward to getting out there and being the people, meeting the sponsors and meeting the fans. Let's get some quality hockey where it needs to be.
“It wouldn't be the fist time I walked into a community as a new coach, but the most important thing to do is open up the lines of communication and try to put the best team out on the ice you can put out.”