The Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Coach of the Year, Kelvin Cech, will never forget where he was on the day his 2019-20 season was shut down.
After all, when you coach a team that had a legitimate chance to win the Turnbull Trophy and a world-wide pandemic ends all hope, you don’t easily forget.
“We were on the bus, about 15 minutes outside of Winkler, heading to Virden for a playoff game when we got the call,” said Cech, who admitted he was disappointed but not surprised.
“My assistant coach (Geoff Grimwood) and I were watching an NBA game when we heard Rudy Gobert tested positive and they were going to shut down the league,” Cech added. “At that point we looked at each other and both thought, ‘OK, this is getting real.’ So, on the day we were headed to Virden, I called the league office in the morning expecting to be told to shut it down, but they said, ‘No everything is on as scheduled.’ Then, just to be sure, I called again in the early afternoon to ask if we should get on the bus and they were a lot more serious. They basically told us to hold off as long as we could, they were waiting for news from Hockey Canada.
“Well, it takes about three hours to get to Virden, so we had to get on the bus, but about 15 minutes out of town, we got the call and were told to turn back. That was it. I knew then that the season was over. All in all, it was a weird couple of days.
“On the bright side, we weren’t halfway through an eight-hour trip to OCN.”
It was a tough way to end a remarkable season for Cech, the former UBC Thunderbirds assistant who took over a slumping Flyers franchise and turned it into the winner that Winkler fans have always expected.
After missing the playoffs in 2018-19 with a record of 23-32-0-5, Cech took over and with only four returning players not only rebuilt the on-ice product but also built a brand-new culture from scratch. In 2019-20, the Flyers went 38-17-2-3, finished third in the league and were three games into a great series against Virden, when the rest of the playoff schedule was called off.
“Yeah, it was a good year and I was really pleased with the way our players responded to what we were trying to do,” Cech said.
“And yes, it was nice to be named Coach of the Year because the coaches vote on that award and it’s satisfying to be recognized by your peers.”
Now that the season is over, Cech will stay in Winkler a while longer and then return to his home –he’s actually building a new home — on beautiful Pender Island, B.C.
Originally from Edmonton, Cech played college hockey in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference before beginning his coaching career with the famed South Side Athletic Club. Moving to Vancouver in 2012, Cech became an assistant coach with the Vancouver Northwest Giants of the BC Major Midget League. There, he helped lead the team to back-to-back league championships and a Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitational Tournament championship in 2012.
After four seasons with the Giants, Cech joined the UBC T-Birds as the full-time assistant coach and after three seasons, accepted the full-time job in Winkler.