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Saints select University of Regina assistant as next head coach

New Selkirk skipper Dave Hnatiuk has a full-hearted passion for the game that has been with him since he was a kid. — Submitted photo

The Selkirk College Saints men’s hockey team has hired a new head coach with deep prairie roots and a foundational understanding of what it takes to be a student-athlete.

Dave Hnatiuk will guide the Saints into the 2019-2020 British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) season after a three-year stint as assistant coach with the University of Regina Cougars. With a diverse resume as a player, Hnatiuk has transitioned to the coaching side of the game with a zeal for helping athletes succeed both on and off the ice.

“We are excited to welcome Dave to the Saints family and are looking forward to having him as part of the program,” says Kim Verigin, Selkirk College’s Department Head for Athletics, Recreation & Student Life. “His background in post-secondary make him a perfect fit and the players are going to benefit from his mentorship in the coming years.”

Hnatiuk spent the majority of his youth in Saskatchewan and played Junior A with the Notre Dame Hounds in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL). He played his 20-year-old junior season in Great Falls, Montana and then spent time playing semi-pro in Oklahoma and Texas. In 2004, he walked onto the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns where he played two seasons before heading off to Europe to play Division 2 hockey in Vetlanda, Sweden.

When injuries forced him out of playing, Hnatiuk transitioned into scouting and coaching. Parallel with his assistant coaching duties at the University of Regina, Hnatiuk has spent the last three seasons coaching young athletes on Team Saskatchewan at The Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament that takes place in Edmonton every summer. 

“I have a full-hearted passion for the game that has been with me since I was a kid,” says Hnatiuk. “It has been so important to me for life lessons and formal education. It’s obviously a fun game to play, but there are challenges and adversity that come with playing at a higher level. As an athlete, hockey provided me with so much and now I want to give back to the game I love through coaching of young athletes.”

The Saints coaching job became available earlier this spring when it was announced that Brent Heaven was stepping down after four successful seasons behind the Saints’ bench that included a championship finish in 2016 and an overall 62-25-0-10 record.

Hnatiuk has several connections to the West Kootenay, including having been a teammate and roommate of Justin Kanigan when they both played for the University of Lethbridge. Kanigan was an assistant coach under Heaven for the last four seasons. With his experience as a student-athlete himself and coaching at the University of Regina, Hnatiuk has an intimate understanding of what it takes to be a student-athlete.

“These are young men who are still pursuing their passion for the game, but are at a crossroads in life where you start to plan a career,” Hnatiuk says. “They have a heavy workload with their challenge in the classroom and their challenge on the ice, they have to juggle academics with athletics and relationships. They are coming in with a bunch of different life experiences and we will have a supportive dressing room that works towards a common goal.”

Currently running an elite camp for pro, college and junior players in Regina, Hnatiuk will make his way west in July after the Brick Tournament. Once he arrives to the new post, Hnatiuk says his goal for the upcoming season is to build off the foundation that exists and return a championship to Castlegar. A young team in the 2018-2019 season, the Saints finished second overall in the BCIHL last season and lost to Vancouver Island University in the first round of post-season.

With a team-first philosophy, on the ice Hnatiuk will bring systems that mirror the blue-collar hard working attitude of the communities that Selkirk College calls home.  

“I expect a lot of out of my guys, I will hold them accountable on the ice, in the classroom and in the community,” he says. “I’m big on the family setting in the room, we all have to align with what we are trying to accomplish.”

The Saints get on the ice in early-September and will be begin the BCIHL regular season in October.