The Saanich Braves have made a sweeping change as former coach Brad Cook, who’s been the head coach for the better part of the 10 years he’s been there, will no longer lead the Braves bench.
It’s part of a shuffle that sees Cook remain in a senior role with the Braves while refocusing his energy on the new partnership between the Spectrum Hockey Academy, which he runs, and the South Island Royals major midget program.
Taking over the Braves head coaching position is Braves alumnus Sam Waterfield, 25, who returns from Edmonton where he played college hockey for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Cook will remain with the Braves as the vice president of hockey operations, overseeing the transition to the new coaching staff.
“I was going to be working with [the South Island Royals] as a director of the program anyways, so I took a step back from the VIJHL and I look forward to creating a new culture with the Royals,” Cook said.
The Braves are coming off their most successful regular season in half a decade (third in the league with a record of 29-15-4) but were eliminated from the playoffs in a tough first-round loss to the Kerry Park Islanders.
“The opportunity was right,” Waterfield said. “In talking with Cook over my last couple of visits, it made sense. He’ll stay on with the team… he’ll be there to mentor me and teach me the ways of the system.”
Waterfield will be joined on the bench by McKenzie Valentine, 19, who shifted into an assistant coaching role with the Braves this year following a season ending injury . However, there are at least one, maybe two assistant coaching roles to fill as Sam McMullen and Scott Hawthorne will not be back. The duo are moving to the major midget Royals program. McMullen becomes the general manager while Hawthorne and another ex-Braves player, Liam Sproule, join Cook as the Royals’ assistant coaches.
Another former Braves player, Adam Geric, returns to coach the Royals for the second-straight year.
In the meantime, Cook will be available to Waterfield as an advisor who can recommend names.
“It won’t be too difficult, there’s lots of people who want to be junior hockey coaches,” Cook said. “But you want to find guys that want to coach, to put the time in and go above and beyond the job description.”
Waterfield will be 26 by the time main camp rolls around, the second youngest head coach in the league after Nanaimo Buccaneers hired 23-year-old Curt Toneff.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen this early,” Waterfield said. “But with [Cook] ready to move on tot he next step of his hockey career, it’s going to be a fun experience.”
This year Waterfield coached Bantam AAA girls hockey this year while working as a hockey-specific personal trainer (he studied fitness at NAIT) and will relocate from Edmonton shortly to begin advance his coaching career.
“The [VIJHL] is going younger for coaches,” Waterfield said. “I think being young and fresh gives you the time to put in at the rink, to find the players, whereas it’s tough for coaches [with families] to find the time. I don’t have the other responsibilities yet.”
Waterfield came through the Spectrum academy under Cook’s tutelage and came to the Braves ownership highly recommended. During his time away Waterfield has stayed connected with the Braves.
“Whenever I came home I always watched a game if I could, or even a period,” Waterfield said. “Being part of Saanich Minor Hockey [Association], growing up here, and being able to come back and give back to the organization is an exciting thing to do.
On June 9 to 11 the Braves hold their annual prospect camp, a key identifier for the Braves recruitment process. This year’s team had 18 players who attended the camp at some point.