Like most junior hockey teams, the Vancouver Victory organization lists developing better hockey players — and better people — as its main mission.
But Victory players didn’t expect the difficult life lessons thrown their way a week ago.
Just hours before the team’s heavily-promoted grand opening home game on Nov. 12 at Mountain View Ice Arena, the players learned that John Nogatch had been dismissed from his coaching duties.
Dave Petrino, a Vancouver resident and veteran youth hockey coach, took over.
The team has not made any announcements explaining the change. Owner Andrew Vilcauskas said only that the decision was made “in the best interest of our hockey team,” said.
Nogatch has not returned calls from The Columbian seeking comment.
The players were surprised by the change.
“Right now we’re all still a little shocked,” Victory captain Jordan Tuttle said following Thursday’s practice. “We were told it’s going to take a little while to get over it. We’ve just got to buck up and push for the best.”
The Victory are 2-2 since the coaching change, and are scheduled to host West Sound of Bremerton for 7 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday.
Last Saturday, the team rallied to win in overtime in front of more than 700 fans. The club gave away tickets to that game to introduce the team to the community.
“Those fans are probably the reason we won that game,” Tuttle said. “We wanted to show that we’re here for them and going to entertain them every night.”
Until last Saturday, Dave Petrino was just one of those fans, watching sons Jack and Sam play for their hometown team. The new head coach said he is as surprised as anyone to be coaching this Victory team.
Petrino said he understands it will take time to heal some emotional wounds, but he is confident that the midseason coaching change won’t knock the season haywire. His first priority is to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“The main goal is to try to keep things as calm as possible,” Petrino said. “We have a lot of guys who are young and who haven’t been through a change like this in the middle of the season, so it’s a little discomforting for some of them.”
Petrino has coached many of the local players on the roster at younger ages. There is plenty of speed and talent to work with, he said.
“I have never seen a junior team in Vancouver skate with as much speed and tempo as this team does,” Petrino said. “This team absolutely flies. I credit John (Nogatch) with bringing that tempo to the game.”
Petrino said his goal is to develop players who, in addition to improving their skills, better understand hockey strategy after playing for the Victory.
That won’t happen over night. But Tuttle believes the turmoil of a coaching change will have a positive impact for the group.
“It’s going to build a stronger bond within the team,” Tuttle said. “We look at each other like family. This will just bring us closer, and hopefully help us toward that championship we all want.”