By MARK HUNTERDaily News Sports Reporter
For Dave Hunchak, “a title’s just a title.”
He certainly got a bigger one Wednesday when he was named head coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers.
Hunchak had spent the past two seasons as an associate coach with the club. He takes over from Guy Charron, who stepped down to take on a new role as the team’s advisor to hockey operations.
According to a Blazers news release, Hunchak signed a “multi-year contract.” Details weren’t made available.
As the right-hand man to Charron, who went 144-97-20 over three-plus seasons as head coach, Hunchak was a big part of the coaching staff. That’s why he’s not exactly worried about the transition to head coach.
“A title’s just a title — it doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Hunchak said. “This team has a good group of people, the best I’ve worked with.
“Behind closed doors, everyone has a voice. It’s important to make sure we keep on doing that.”
This isn’t Hunchak’s first turn as a head coach. He spent four seasons as head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors. His contract wasn’t renewed after he led the team to a 40-26-6 record in 2010-11, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Considered one of the league’s top young coaches, Hunchak was hired by the Blazers in June 2011, and helped Charron lead the team to back-to-back 47-20-5 records. In each of those seasons, the Blazers won at least one playoff round, and made it into Round 3 last month, before losing to the eventual WHL-champion Portland Winterhawks.
A lot of the credit for the turnaround — the Blazers had missed the playoffs in 2010-11 — went to Hunchak’s work with the defencemen. But Hunchak doesn’t consider himself a defence-first kind of coach.
“Defence is one of the critical parts of the game,” he said. “Every team that wins usually is a good defensive team. Look at Portland — everyone thinks they’re offence, offence, offence. But they have the best defence in the league.”
When the Blazers hired Hunchak to be their associate coach, it was assumed he would eventually take over the head-coaching position. The opportunity arose after the Blazers lost the Western Conference final to the Winterhawks.
Charron chose to step back, opening the door for Hunchak.
“We had some discussions right after the season was done,” Hunchak said. “Then (general manager) Craig (Bonner) was away so they slowed down. But everyone knew where we were at by that point.”
The Blazers should be a contender again in 2013-14. Although the team is losing, among others, captain Dylan Willick, five-year forward Brendan Ranford and defenceman Tyler Hansen, who is headed to South America for a mission with his church, it should return an excellent group of players.
Up front, Colin Smith, JC Lipon and Tim Bozon are eligible to return, as are budding forwards Matt Needham, Cole Ully and Chase Souto. Six defencemen can return as well, along with goaltender Cole Cheveldave, one of the league’s best.
And, in case Hunchak needs any help on the bench, Charron will be available in his advisor role.
“We’ve talked about (Charron’s role) a little bit,” Hunchak said. “He has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and it’s great to have that around.”
Charron will be in the arena at home games and will help out in practices.
“He’ll be more involved in the player development side of things,” Hunchak said.
Hunchak’s first order of business will be finding a full-time assistant coach. He’s scheduled to leave today for the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, where he’s going to talk with a couple of possible candidates.
He also figures he’ll receive “quite a few emails” from coaches looking for work, before starting the day-to-day grind that goes with his new title.
“I have to communicate with the guys on the roster and our list players, including the newly drafted guys,” Hunchak said. “At this stage of the year, it’s about continuing to build relationships with the players.”
The Blazers also announced Wednesday that athletic trainer/equipment manager Colin (Toledo) Robinson has signed a “multi-year contract extension.” Robinson, who is preparing for his 18thWHL season, has been in his role with the Blazers since 2005-06.
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