The Kimberley Dynamiters Hockey Club has found its new bench boss and didn’t have to go very far to find him.
Derek Stuart, 39, has been named the successor to Jerry Bancks, taking over as head coach and general manager of the Kimberley Dynamiters, following six seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
Stuart, a native of Calgary, has strong Kimberley connections, having spent three seasons (1995 to 1998) playing for the Dynamiters during the club’s Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League days, two of which came under the tutelage of the outgoing Bancks.
“It’s very exciting for me, as well as for my wife and daughter,” Stuart said over the phone Monday morning. “I have a lot of family in Kimberley, and friends. I played there for three years, so it’s really exciting for me to come back and get a chance to work with a team that gave me an opportunity as a player and a town that means a lot to me.
“It’s a top-notch organization in the KIJHL, which was important. It’s run really well and it’s had lots of success over the past few years. Jerry [Bancks] has obviously changed the culture and how things are done there.”
Of particular note, Stuart is a cousin of Jeff Keiver, who served alongside Bancks as an assistant coach with the Dynamiters.
According to Kimberley Dynamiters vice-president James Leroux, Stuart signed a two-year contract with the club, including a mutual option for a third year. Additionally, Leroux said the club received over 50 applications for the position.
“We’re in the business of developing players and coaches,” Leroux said Monday morning. “If he gets an outstanding offer from somebody, we don’t want to hold him back either.
“[The Kimberley connection] was a really important factor [in the hiring process].”
Stuart spent a total of five seasons as an assistant coach with the AJHL’s Okotoks Oilers (2010-11 to 2012-13; 2014-15 to 2015-16) with a stint as head coach of the AJHL’s Calgary Mustangs sandwiched in between.
During his time with the Oilers, Stuart highlighted the role head coach James Poole played in providing learning opportunities by delegating tasks and responsibilities.
Stuart notched a record of 26-28-6-0 during his lone full season (2013-14) as head coach of the Mustangs.
From 2006 through 2010, he served as associate head coach for the Calgary Buffaloes of the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League (AMHL), helping the organization to three league championships, two provincial titles and two regional championships.
There are big shoes to fill in Kimberley, with Bancks having changed the culture of the organization, bringing with that change the 2015 KIJHL championship, a runner-up finish at the 2015 Cyclone Taylor Cup, a 2015-16 KIJHL regular-season title and second consecutive trip to the league championship series.
According to Leroux, Bancks gave a ringing endorsement of Stuart. Since his hiring, the freshly-minted lead man has already been in contact with his former coach.
“Jerry is a big inspiration for why I got into coaching,” Stuart said. “I’ve been in touch with him and he’s a good friend of mine.
“He’s told me to get on recruiting because there are quite a few guys leaving, quite a few of them local kids that are moving on. He’s told me to get on the recruiting and to make it my own thing. He’s going to be there for support if I ask for it, but otherwise he’s going to stay on the outside and let me do my thing.
“He’s been very supportive and very helpful in terms of the interview approach and filling me in on the situation out there and what to expect. It’s been made a lot easier for me knowing Jerry and having him as a friend to help me along.”
When it comes to his approach at the rink, Stuart said he prioritizes getting all players involved in the game plan, creating a strong sense of team and having players earn their roles.
On the ice, his goal is to deploy a smart hockey club with good puck possession play and decision making, along with a strong sense of discipline and work ethic.
All of that comes right in line with the culture implemented by Bancks and valued deeply by the Dynamiters executive and board of directors, which chose to hand the reins to Stuart.
“We expect to be in the best physical shape of any team in the KI,” Leroux said. “We have been in the past three years, so we need to continue that. It’s very important to the board.
“If we can skate well into the third period and we’re not quite as skilled, sometimes we’re going to win those games.”
Outside of recruitment and replacing the likes of Jason Richter, Tyson Brouwer, Jordan Busch, Eric Buckley, Jared Marchi and a host of other key cogs vacating the Dynamiters core, Stuart knows he will be challenged in learning the ins and outs of the KIJHL, but has the utmost confidence he will get up to speed before the puck drops this fall.
Stuart has not yet set a date for his move to Kimberley, but plans to be in town for the team’s annual general meeting (AGM) May 18. When he does arrive full-time, he will bring with him wife Erin and daughter Blake.
“The town, obviously, is great. There was unbelievable fan support [when I played], which I understand hasn’t changed,” Stuart said, reminiscing on his playing days in Kimberley.
“The town was fantastic. I met a lot of good friends and still keep in touch with probably three or four guys from these teams and see them quite frequently here. It was a great experience, all around, for the three years I was there. That’s a big reason why I applied in Kimberley — I knew the town and knew the fan support was outstanding.
“Generally, when Jerry Bancks and Jeff [Keiver] are involved, I’m coming into a situation that I don’t have too change too much in regards to the culture.”
For the time being, Stuart has not made any concrete decisions regarding assistant coaches, but it is believed Keiver will return to the bench as an assistant after originally having planned to take a break from hockey. Stuart said he will also meet with Byron Garrels and Todd White, who served with Bancks and Keiver as assistant coaches, when he comes to town for the AGM.
With that, a new era of Kimberley Dynamiters hockey begins as Stuart takes the helm, following in the footsteps of his former coach. By the sounds of it, this apple doesn’t fall too far from the proverbial tree.
“My expectations are high, I don’t really believe in a rebuild year,” Stuart said. “If you get the recruits in there and you get the right kids in there, I don’t see why a place like Kimberley can’t have success each and every year. That’s my goal heading in there this year.”
Outside of his playing days with the Dynamiters, Stuart suited up for Bemidji State University (NCAA) and won a national championship with the Mount Royal Cougars (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference).