Lakers Dirk top Okanagan coach

Being named Okanagan-Shuswap Coach of the Year for Robert Dirk is a reflection of his players and their hard work.

Being named Okanagan-Shuswap Coach of the Year for Robert Dirk is a reflection of his players and their hard work.

“I am honoured to have been chosen for this award as the league is very well-coached,” said Dirk, who has just completed his first season as Penticton Lakers coach in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

Dirk, who guided the Lakers to a 25-19-1-7 record with the help of Ben Boudreau, said it was about his player’s willingness to listen and make change to better their skills.

“If you don’t have that willingness by players, they are not going to improve and the team won’t,” said Dirk, whose Lakers lost to the Princeton Posse in seven games during the first round.

In the last five years with the Okanagan Hockey Academy, Dirk said he has become a better teacher, especially with how he deals with his players. Compared to dealing with adults as he did earlier in his coaching career with minor pro teams, Dirk said more patience is needed.

The retired NHLer has enjoyed working with the Lakers and looks forward to coming back.

“I think it’s a better fit for me,” said Dirk, who earned Coach of the Year honours in the United Hockey League.

Entering the season Dirk had two goals. One, was to make the playoffs, and second to change the culture and losing perception of the Lakers. While Dirk would have loved to see his team advance to the second round, something the organization hasn’t done even when in Summerland, he feels they have taken a step to accomplishing their second goal. The Lakers were seven points shy of finishing first in their division.

Andy Oakes, president of the Okanagan Hockey Academy, said it was well-deserved recognition for Dirk and his staff. Oakes said they put effort into rebuilding the franchise after last year.  What impressed Oakes the most was how the group remained disciplined in executing its system.

“It was really positive,” said Oakes, noting the group was committed to playing disciplined and in their roles.

After losing to the Posse, Oakes spoke to Dirk Monday morning to let him know he did a good job. He also said they want Dirk guiding the Lakers next season.

“I think it goes back to having the right person in place for a longer period,” said Oakes, as Dirk is the fourth coach in four years for the Lakers. “It will be easier to recruit for next season. Consistency for the organization will be positive with him coming back. We’re very proud of his accomplishment and the team’s accomplishment. Big steps.”

Kris Mallette, coach of the North Okanagan Knights, was named Coach of the Year for the Doug Birks Division, while Terry Jones of the Beaver Valley Nitehawks was named top coach for the Neil Murdoch Division and the KIJHL. Will Verner of the Fernie Ghostriders was named Coach of the Year for the Eddie Mountain Division.