The Kootenay Ice added some valuable experience behind the bench Tuesday morning, announcing the hiring of former NHL forward Roman Vopat as an assistant coach.
“We are thrilled to have Roman join our staff,” said Jeff Chynoweth, president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, in a team release. “His experience both as a player and coach will be a much welcome addition.
“We will all benefit from his presence as he will be a tremendous resource to our young players and can help our veteran players further understand the effort it takes to succeed in this game.”
The 40-year-old Vopat joins head coach Luke Pierce, 33, and assistant coach Gordon Burnett, 35.
Pierce and Burnett are entering their second campaign in Cranbrook, while Vopat comes to the East Kootenay following two seasons in Prince George as an assistant coach with the Cougars alongside former Ice bench boss Mark Holick.
“I’m really excited,” Pierce said Tuesday morning. “Anytime you can add any type of willing help there, it’s a positive, especially a guy who’s got experience coaching in our league for a couple of years and working with a guy like Mark Holick, who’s got a ton of experience.
“You add in his experiences as a player and I think he’s a tremendous addition to our staff and will certainly complement Gord and I.”
Vopat, a native of Litvinov, Czech Republic, also served as the head coach of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s Kimberley Dynamiters for the 2011-12 season before departing midway through the 2012-13 campaign.
Prior to his coaching career, Vopat played 16 seasons of professional hockey, including 133 games in the NHL, split between the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers.
“He’s got a lot of experience working with specific skill areas,” Pierce said of Vopat. “In talking with Mark [Holick] up there and with Roman, he really enjoys that part of the game — helping players with individual skills, whether that be face-offs or different shooting things. The skill part of the game is such a big part of your teaching nowadays. Having another guy there that’s willing to spend some time after practice to work with kids and do some one-on-one stuff will be huge.
“I think it will be a pretty easy transition for him. What he’s used to doing in Prince George will be very similar to what he will do here.”
Vopat was a seventh-round pick (172nd overall) of the Blues at the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. He played two seasons in the Western Hockey League, skating in 94 games split between the Moose Jaw Warriors (1994-95) and Prince Albert Raiders (1995-96). Over his two WHL campaigns, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound forward registered 38 goals and 63 points.
After wrapping up his NHL career following the 1998-99 season, Vopat spent the next 12 seasons playing professionally in Europe.
During his NHL career, Vopat was famously part of a transaction that included Wayne Gretzky.
On Feb. 26, 1996, the Blues dealt Vopat, along with Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif and a pair of draft picks, to the Kings in exchange for The Great One, who went on to play 18 regular season games and 13 post-season contests in St. Louis.
Vopat and his wife Natalie reside in Cranbrook year-round with their sons — 11-year-old Brayden and nine-year-old Nicholas.
The newest member of the Ice coaching staff will get down to business starting this Sunday, as players report for fitness testing before training camp gets underway Monday, Aug. 29.