The Beaver Valley Nitehawks pulled off a stunning move on Wednesday, naming former Trail Smoke Eater Head Coach and GM, Bill Birks, as the Hawks’ new assistant coach.
“Terry phoned me last week and we had a good talk,” said Birks. “He gave me a few days to think about it . . . we sat down, I met with him last night and done deal.”
Birks replaces former assistant Jim Ingram, whom, coincidentally, Birks also replaced as head coach of the Smoke Eaters in March of 2011, when Ingram took a head coaching position with the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Ingram stepped down from his Hawks’ assistant role following the 2014-15 season due to family commitments, leaving the door open for Birks.
“He (Birks) is someone different, and he has a new, fresh approach to what we have going,” said Nitehawks coach Terry Jones. “(When Ingram stepped down) We talked about it and let it purcolate.”
Following conversations with family, Nitehawks staff, and, in particular, assistant coach Kevin Limbert, Birks soon became the viable candidate.
“All the conversations we had was, ‘Who is the best fit to help us win a championship?’” said Jones. “‘Who is the best fit to make our players the best possible?’ At the end of the day, we want to win, and we want to win bad, and getting Bill on board is perfect.”
In the past, the two coaches have had their differences, which reached its boiling point in January of 2013. After a heated meeting between Jones and Birks, the Smokies coach, regarding a player’s release, Jones and a few Nitehawks’ players blocked the Smoke Eater’s bus as it attempted to leave on a road trip. Jones received a three-game suspension from the KIJHL for the protest, and the incident soured an already tense relationship between the two coaches and teams.
“The past is the past,” said Birks. “It was all hockey oriented, you get caught up in it a little bit sometimes. He (Jones) runs a great program, he has for years. He asked me to come on board and help him out, I was pretty excited about it.”
Birks coached the Smoke Eaters from 2011-2013, was assistant coach to Ingram in 2010-11, and assistant with the Merritt Centennials from 2007-09. An intense competitor, Birks’ coaching style and man-of-few-words demeanor, may contrast slightly with Jones’ more outgoing and educational approach, but his love of the game and knowledge as a coach will certainly compliment an already strong Nitehawks culture on and off the ice.
“We’re both kind of the same people, I think, in a way, we have the same sense of battling, and now we’re all on the same boat, I think it will be good,” said Birks.
Birks will handle defensive duties and the power-play, while Limbert returns for his third year as the offensive assistant coach.
The move to hire the Sicamous native is a bit of a departure for the Nitehawks who have built a tradition of former players, like Darcy Dickson, Kris Boyce, and Jamie and Jeremy Comminotto, filling the assistant roles.
“It’s fresh blood right, it’s a new approach, new ideas,” said Limbert. “Everyone that has been through the door for the past 10 years has been a former player, we know what the culture is around here, so you come in almost preconditioned in a sense . . . Bill comes in completely fresh, and will be a real good complement to what we currently have.”
The Nitehawks will hit the ice Aug. 28-30 for their Fall Camp, with the exhibition season starting Sept. 1, and the 2015-16 season opening on Sept. 11. B.V. opens the season in Spokane against the Braves, and their first home game goes the next night against Kelowna in the Hawks Nest.
The Hawks are hoping a fresh set of eyes will help the team reclaim the Kootenay Conference title after falling to Kimberley Dynamiters in five games in last year’s Conference final.
“I’m just going to be another guy to bounce stuff off, I’m going to learn a lot too, and vice versa,” added Birks. “Just to be back in the game and be around the kids is a pretty good feeling, when you can teach kids and see them move on, its a good feeling.”
And perhaps more important for the 48-year-old Trail resident: “To stay at home and not move my family again is perfect.”