Coaching junior hockey is not an exercise in job security, and coaching the same junior team for 20 years is unheard of - almost.
The Beaver Valley Nitehawks head coach and GM Terry Jones hopes to celebrate the Nitehawk’s 35th year and his 20th season behind the bench in B.V. with another KIJHL championship, as the Hawks start their playoff run on Friday.
The Montrose native won his first KIJHL championship and Cyclone Taylor Cup as an assistant coach with the Hawks in 1997. Since then, the Hawks have won seven KI titles, three provincial Cyclone Cup championships, and a Keystone Cup (Western Canadian championship). His teams made the playoffs in every one of those 20 seasons, and wrapped up their 13th Neil Murdoch Division regular-season title in January.
“Winning that year (‘97) set our culture, our expectations, in terms of here’s what we were going to do,” said Jones. “What followed after that though was just Trail Minor Hockey and Beaver Valley Minor Hockey had a ton of really good young players coming through … we’ve always had a really good core of guys to provide that foundation.”
Jones started with the Nitehawks as an assistant to Pat Corrado in 1996, after a rough year assisting Hank Deadmarsh and Corrado coach the Trail Smoke Eaters in their second season in the BCHL.
“Pat and I had a pretty unsuccessful year in Trail as Jr. A coaches, and I was kind of disillusioned, but Hank and Pat asked me to come back (to B.V.)” said Jones. “It’s all about teamwork, it’s always been about teamwork, and I felt with Hank and Pat we were a good team and then Paul (Matteucci) and I were a good team.”
Four years later, two KIJHL championships and a Cyclone Taylor Cup coaching with Corrado and Deadmarsh provided a solid foundation for Jones and more success quickly followed.
Jones took over as head coach and continued to build the Nitehawks culture with assistant Matteucci from 2000-07, winning three more KI titles and a Cyclone. But with twin sons Connor and Kellen on the move to the Vernon Vipers, Jones took a half season off, with the intention of staying on as GM, but returned as head coach in 2008 and hasn’t looked back since.
Uncharacteristically, the Nitehawks went five seasons without a Murdoch title, and bottomed out with a fourth-place finish in 2009-10, but two years later the Hawks were back on top, winning another KIJHL title in 2012.
“An important step was taking the HP (high performance coaching) course,” said Jones. “I talked to my wife (Loretta) about it, and talked about being stale as a coach and having new ideas, and from that HP course, that’s really the foundation of what we do now. We have a delegation of coaches, a bunch of guys that really hang together, we all have our roles and work together as a team. Since that time, coaching has become so much fun.”
The current Nitehawks coaching staff is an example of how the teamwork has paid off. The Nitehawks share responsibilities with assistants Bill Birks and Jeremy Cominotto on the bench, and Mike Morisette, Dave Pasin, and Kevin Hendrickson assisting off the ice, along with assistant GM Jamie Cominotto and trainer Tom Meekes, who has also been with the Hawks since 96-97.
Birks, with six seasons as a Jr. A coach of the Merritt Centennials and Trail Smoke Eaters behind him, recognizes a quality organization when he sees one.
“I’ve been around a lot of teams but this is a high-end organization and so are the people,” said Birks. “The breakfast club is huge, you get guys down here and they hangout, different voices from everybody, it’s just not one guy barking orders, it’s seven or eight, but they all listen. And the stuff, the swag they get, the road trips, the hotels they stay in, the food they eat, it’s Jr. A quality.”
For Cominotto, who as a former player (‘99-03) returned to the team as an assistant coach in 2008, the experience has been “pretty special.”
“Never would I have thought at 16, when I came here my first year, that eight years later I’m standing here next to him on the bench. But I’ve always admired Terry, and playing for him I kind of knew what his expectations would be for me as a coach.”
Understandably, a Hawks’ highlight for Jones was the team’s 2014 sweep of the KIJHL title, Cyclone Taylor and Keystone Cups. The Nitehawks have also helped hundreds of players move onto the Junior A, University, and professional ranks, but it is in the small victories that Jones takes most pride.
“Guys like Mike Morissette, and Jeremy (Cominotto), guys that I’ve coached, you see them back coaching minor hockey, or involved in minor hockey, and giving back to the community. It’s what we did, so they’re replicating that. Guys making the NHL and college is great, but the vast majority of guys become members of the community and contribute, so that is very satisfying.”
Clearly, the Nitehawks team is bigger than the roster and the coaching staff more than the coaches. The secret to the Nitehawks’ success is the combined support of it’s executive, parents, billets, fans, and volunteers that help the team go, the coaches’ families, their partners and wives, who all contribute to the Nitehawks success.
“For Terry to be doing this for 22 years, I’ve been in it for 10 or 12, and you (Cominotto) for eight or nine, our wives deserve so much credit, because without them we couldn’t be here,” said Birks. “Without their support we couldn’t do this.”
As Terry Jones Sr. said at the Nitehawks banquet Monday, ‘The Nitehawks are more than an organization, it’s a family.’
And, if the younger Jones stays behind the bench for another 20 years, the family is in good hands.
The Nitehawks begin their playoff run against the Grand Forks Border Bruins at the Hawks Nest on Friday at 7:30 p.m.